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EDITORIAL: Gov. Quinn dropped the ball on DCFS hire

Quinn

Quinn

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Updated: March 28, 2014 8:59AM



Gov. Quinn had a problem.

Now his problem has gone away.

But not really.

Why, it is fair to wonder, did Quinn ever allow this problem to happen in the first place? Why did the governor appoint a questionably qualified candidate, Arthur D. Bishop, to head the state agency most crucial to protecting abused and neglected children in Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services?

Bishop — who resigned late Wednesday after a flurry of Sun-Times and WBEZ stories into his background — is a man once convicted of misdemeanor theft for swindling clients at a social service agency.

The theft, though 19 years ago, troubles us. That Bishop took advantage of needy people suggests a character flaw that troubles us more.

Bishop is also a man who stands accused of failing to provide and care for a daughter born out of wedlock — accused by both the child’s mother and the daughter herself, now a 27-year-old woman.

Bishop disputes this. Until the girl was of college age, he insists, he did not know she was his child.

Let us be clear — we certainly don’t pretend to know where the truth lies.

But a cloud hung over Bishop’s head, and we believe the state Senate, which at some point was slated to confirm Quinn’s appointment of Bishop, would have had every ethical right to take a hard and direct look at that cloud.

We are talking about DCFS. We are talking about the one agency that, by definition, is supposed to stand up for the most vulnerable people in this state — children who are abused and neglected and, frankly, often unloved. A good mother? Maybe. A loving father in the home? Good luck with that.

The man who runs such an agency must, if nothing else, be beyond reproach in that single way. He must be, without question, a real father, in spirit and in presence. Whether he likes it or not, he is a stand-in for every absent father of every unlucky child looking for help and hope.

“He’s supposed to be protecting the kids of the state — and you’ve got a kid out here you never done anything for,” Bishop’s daughter, Erica Bishop, told the Sun-Times. “He left me as a father, which I think that’s unfair to me, and it’s unfair to my kids. . . . As far as them wanting to keep giving him higher positions to look over people’s kids, I don’t agree.”

We do not wish Bishop ill will. We do not even know whom to believe. Family disputes can be ugly.

But we have to question why Quinn did not vet Bishop more thoroughly.

Three years ago, Quinn brought in a fine new leader, veteran children’s advocate Richard H. Calica, to head DCFS. Calica was a sterling choice to run an agency that, almost inevitably, will have its share of scandals.

But after Calica died last December, the governor did not hold himself to the same standard of excellence in appointing Bishop, formerly director of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The irony of all this is that Quinn has been a champion of children in many ways, fighting for better funding for DCFS, for community social services agencies, for education and the like. Among Quinn’s first hires as governor, as his chief of staff, was a veteran advocate for the welfare of children, Jerry Stermer, the founder and longtime head of Voices for Illinois Children.

Arthur Bishop has stepped down. That is for the better.

Now Gov. Quinn has some making up to do.



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