Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Fulton child welfare chief won't lose retirement pay
Ron Martz - Staff
Saturday, May 13, 2000

The head of the Fulton County child welfare office will be allowed to retire with full benefits June 1 although he has been criticized for his handling of the Terrell Peterson case and his boss is threatening to fire him.

Ralph Mitchell was certified eligible for medical disability retirement April 26, five days before he was notified by Juanita Blount-Clark, director of the state Division of Family and Children Services, that she was considering firing him for insubordination and mismanagement of the office, including the Peterson case.

The timing, the state attorney general said in a memo to the governor's office, means the disability retirement cancels any subsequent personnel action.

The disability ruling means Mitchell, who earned $107,000, will retire after 29 years at $61,670 a year, instead of the $48,400 he would have received if fired.

"Even if Mr. Mitchell's proposed dismissal in fact becomes effective May 31, 2000, he may nevertheless retire as previously approved by (the state employee retirement system) effective June 1, 2000. The amount of his disability retirement benefit will not be affected by the proposed termination action by DHR," Susan Rutherford, senior assistant attorney general, wrote in a memorandum to the governor's office.

Joselyn Butler, spokeswoman for Gov. Roy Barnes, said the governor declined comment on Mitchell's retirement and the attorney general's opinion.

Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Fran Buchanan said Blount-Clark and her boss, DHR Commissioner Audrey Horne, did not want to comment.

Mitchell, 59, suspended with pay May 1 after being notified of the administrative charges against him, could not be reached for comment.

The most serious charges concerned his office's handling of the case involving Terrell Peterson, a 5-year-old Atlanta boy who died in January 1998 after eight reports of neglect or abuse of him and his siblings had been made to Fulton County DFACS. Terrell's grandmother, his aunt and the aunt's boyfriend have been charged in the child's death.

Mitchell publicly acquitted his caseworkers in Terrell's death, although he knew three investigations had been highly critical of how the case was handled.

Mitchell was scheduled to have a hearing before Horne and an administrative law judge May 25. Buchanan said DHR "is reviewing the situation in light of the attorney general's letter and we expect to make a decision shortly" on whether to have the hearing. .

According to the attorney general's memo, Mitchell submitted his paperwork for disability retirement in December after going on leave for a heart condition.

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