WILKES COUNTY — The embattled director of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services announced his retirement last week, less than three months after the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a scathing report citing major deficiencies within the department.
William Sebastian, who has served as director at the department since January 2011, said his retirement will be effective Sept. 30. He has worked at the department in various capacities for 34 years.
Sebastian made headlines after the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) launched an investigation into his department in March. On April 17, the state agency released a six-page evaluation report which shed light on major deficiencies within the Wilkes County agency.
The investigation began after state DHHS officials learned through a story first reported by The Elkin Tribune on Feb. 19 that kids from Wilkes County had been placed in the home of a convicted child abuser. It is a case in which Wilkes County social workers removed two young girls from one abusive home, then placed them in a home where they were allegedly sexually abused again and contracted STDs.
According to the DHHS evaluation report, DHHS staffers reviewed a sample of local cases and found problems involving leadership, oversight, record-keeping, and criminal background checks conducted in only 35.3 percent of the assessed cases.
The Wilkes department’s Board of Directors called a special meeting on April 23 to discuss the state investigation. After the three-hour closed session, board member Blake Lovett read a resolution compelling Sebastian to address all issues of leadership addressed in the April 17 state report, and to help develop a corrective action plan that will bring the Wilkes Department of Social Services into compliance.
“The board will hold the director accountable for the integrity of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services,” said Lovett.
The board members are John Myers, chairman; Glenda S. Triplett, vice chairman; Keith Elmore (who doubles as a Wilkes County commissioner), Blake D. Lovette, and Larry J. Pendry.
“I have full confidence in the staff of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services to meet the challenges in the future, and full confidence in the Wilkes Social Services Board and county officials to appoint a leader that will guide the Department of Social Services after I retire,” said Sebastian after making his retirement announcement. He refused to make additional comments.
Since the April meeting, Wilkes County commissioners have been in discussions on whether the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners should take over the local agency, thus eliminating its board. Commissioners have been urged by the general public to consider a takeover.
The board is searching for a replacement for Sebastian. Applications are being accepted through July 25.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or follow on Twitter @newsgonz