Gov. Ducey appoints new head of child safety department

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday chose a former Phoenix police detective who has been running the state's child welfare investigations office since 2012 as the head of the Department of Child Safety, ditching former Gov. Jan Brewer's hand-chosen leader for the troubled agency.

Greg McKay is credited with the November 2013 discovery that more than 6,000 child abuse reports phoned into the Child Protective Services hotline had been illegally closed without investigation. That revelation led Brewer to remove CPS from its parent agency and remake it as a stand-alone agency.

In choosing McKay, Ducey passed over Brewer's turnaround specialist, Charles Flanagan. Flanagan had been head of the state's juvenile corrections department before being chosen by Brewer to run the child safety agency last year.

"Charles Flanagan's service has not been extended," Ducey said. "We chose to go in a different direction and I believe this is the best course of action.

Ducey said the agency still falls short, and he wants that to change.

"Let's start with the obvious, because we're not here to sugar coat this problem," Ducey said. "We know that Arizona's children deserve better. When it comes to Arizona's record of safeguarding children - our most vulnerable - our state government has come up woefully short."

Ducey said McKay brings experience, expertise and insight into child safety and law enforcement to the role.

"The No. 1 role of government is to protect the people, and there is no priority greater than ensuring the safety of our children," Ducey said in a statement. "Greg McKay has devoted more than 20 years to that mission."

The announcement of McKay's appointment ended weeks of speculation into Flanagan's future as head of the agency created by the Legislature last year. He had reportedly clashed with McKay over the direction of the agency.

McKay wrote a scathing memo to Brewer on Nov. 12, 2013, about his discovery of thousands of uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports. He said the closure was "clearly one of failed child safety and protection multiplied by 5,000."

The memo led to a complete agency overhaul and the firing of six state workers. Five are now suing for wrongful termination.

Ducey also named a new deputy director of the department, and the former head of the Arizona National Guard as a management consultant.

Vicki Mayo, a former information company executive and longtime child advocate, will be McKay's deputy. Retired Major General David Rataczak will serve as McKay's management consultant.

McKay has never led a large agency and was a Phoenix police detective when he was brought in to help with criminal child abuse investigations when a new unit was created in 2012.

Ducey said he expects the agency to be responsive, but said he knows that won't happen overnight.

"No one here is under the impression that this will be an easy task. Reform - real reform, which is necessary here - takes time," Ducey said. "Our goal is to protect and save as many of Arizona's children as possible."

McKay said that will start with ensuring that child welfare workers are in the field visiting vulnerable children.

"Starting now, seeing and protecting children is job 1 every day," McKay said. "Whatever has taken precedent over this mission is to be discarded immediately."

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.