A legislative panel approved of a $250,000 contract for Gov. Matt Bevin’s “adoption czar” Tuesday over the objections of Democrats on the committee.
State Rep. Dennis Horlander, D-Louisville, voted “pass,” which means he neither approved nor disapproved, and Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, refused to vote at all. The 54-week contract names Daniel Dumas, the senior vice president of the Southern Theological Seminary, as a special adviser on child welfare issues.
“It wouldn’t have done any good,” Carroll said, when asked why he didn’t vote on the contract. “There’s only two of us on this committee that could have voted against it.”
Democratic lawmakers have vocally opposed Bevin’s hiring of Dumas, criticizing his qualifications and the amount he’s slated to earn when compared to salaries for child-protection workers in the state.
“I don’t think this particular individual was qualified for the job,” Carroll said after the meeting of the Government Contract Review Committee. “My personal opinion is that [Bevin] was playing for the religious vote. He constantly does and that’s his privilege.”
Bevin has defended his hiring of Dumas to overhaul Kentucky’s adoption and foster care systems, saying the criticism is unjustified.
“He’s a guy who has spoken on this subject, has written about this subject,” Bevin said during a Facebook Live video in May. “He’s a guy who is living it. And the fact that the state of Kentucky is fortunate enough to get him to do this job — we should be grateful.”
Testifying to the panel, Scott Brinkman, the secretary of the executive cabinet, pointed to Dumas’ leadership skills as the primary reason Bevin chose to hire him.
“What the governor wanted was somebody who wasn’t necessarily burdened by years of experience doing the same thing over and over within systems that had been challenging and have been challenged for years,” Brinkman said.
Adria Johnson, the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, said the number of children in state custody has increased by about 500 in the past three months. Johnson said she hopes Dumas will help with the strategic recruitment of new foster parents.
“Having a dedicated resource, which this contract will allow us to have, around this issue is a huge benefit to this agency at a time right now when we’re seeing volumes here that are unprecedented for this state.” Johnson said.
The number of substantiated child abuse and neglect findings in Kentucky increased 55 percent from 2012 to 2016. There are more than 8,000 children in Kentucky’s foster care system. An estimated 1,200 of those are available for adoption.
Despite the testimony lauding Dumas’ leadership qualifications, Carroll remained skeptical.
“I don’t see any justifiable reason to pay a minister who knows absolutely nothing about adoption, he knows nothing about the operation of state government,” Carroll said. “He’s had one adoption, so now he’s an expert at adoptions?”
Bevin has donated money to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the past and has a mission center at the seminary named after him.
The Government Contract Review Committee consists of six Republicans and two Democrats. Even if the panel doesn’t approve of a contract, Bevin has the power to override the decision.
Other lawmakers on the panel were more supportive of Dumas.
State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he hopes Dumas will bring a “fresh set of eyes” to the state’s adoption system.
“Sometimes it just feels like a gerbil on one of those spinning wheels and nothing gets done,” Lee said.
State Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said he hoped Dumas would work with a legislative task force attempting to find solutions to streamline the state’s adoption process. That group is headed by House Majority Caucus Chair David Meade, R-Stanford.
“The fact of the matter is that the challenges are so significant and we literally need all hands on deck,” Brinkman said. “We need all the best minds being brought to bear on these challenges.”