State Board of CO Human Services Member publicly admonishes free speech of mother of a child with Down Syndrome

Written content by Maureen Welch, volunteer
Video content by David Owen, family advocate

"This is not about me personally, it is about holding government accountable. I will continue to do so, regardless of how I am treated. This is what Democracy looks like." -Maureen Welch, volunteer activist.

During the public State Board of Human Services (CDHS) on May 4, 2018, State board member Bernie Buescher, attorney, former State Representative, former governor appointed secretary of state and medicaid agency director,  rebuked volunteer stakeholder Maureen Welch for her last email newsletter.  Mr. Buescher stated that her emails "challenge the integrity of state employees and county employees". He continued stating this "makes it harder for me to listen to you. I was angry after reading your last email." 

The First Amendment protects Freedom of Speech and the Press. It is clear that the Board is not happy with Ms. Welch's role in calling out department shortcomings as a citizen whistle blower. Just moments prior to Mr. Buescher's lambasting, she shared recent changes by the department which brought CDHS into compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Act. These changes only occurred after she attended and made public comment for several months at Department of Human Services Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) and Sub PAC bodies. The transparency of these advisory bodies are critical, as they review draft rules, which then go to State Board for a vote (more info on PAC and Sub PAC click here). Department rules are the "how" to implementing legislative changes to the statute, which are the "what".

At Colorado Human Services' PAC and Sub PAC meetings over last months, the department of Human Services staff insisted they were not subject to the Colorado Open Meetings Act, and they were "following the law". After repeated comments to the contrary by Ms. Welch, the department asked the Assistant Attorney General for legal interpretation. The AAG's review determined that these advisory bodies are indeed subject to Colorado's Open Meeting law. So now the information is available online. The PAC on May 3, even added the Open Meetings clause for the first time to their new bylaws draft. Now there are pages online with the meeting documents, agendas, minutes for public to access.

This experience results in a perception, that that the State board is more vested in defending the "mistakes" by state/county workers, and maintaining the department practices, than listening to critical stakeholder experiences. It is no wonder that the public hesitates to participate in the stakeholder process when the Board castigates public comment by stakeholder in the disability community in a scathing manner.

The State Board has so far voted the APS rule drafts in, even after valid concerns are made by stakeholders who stepped forward. These concerns regarding APS Rule packets for for APS Registry/Background Check rules stemming from HB17-1284.
a.) overreach of statute (no severity levels or mention of substantiating minors ages 10-17)
b.) employer concerns regarding the $35 cost maximum and 10 day wait possible for registry check,
c.) allowing minors from 10-17 to be substantiated and put on the registry of perpetrators
d.) the inclusion of social security number in rule packet 3 as an indentifier
e.) questions around quality and training of APS investigators, such as the PAW training  listing Emergency room visits as an indicator of abuse/neglect
f.) concerns around the security of all the data in the CAPS data system, which remains even if no substantiation occurs.
g.) lack of consistency in application across counties

Video 1- May 4, 2018Public Comment- CDHS process at PAC and Sub PAC was not compliant with State Statute (law). Maureen Welch talks about Process and Trust. 

Video 2- May 4, 2018- just over one minute, State Board CDHS meeting. 

After Ms Welch shared the recent changes made by the Department to come into compliance, Mr. Buescher shares his "anger" with Ms. Welch while defends the "mistakes" of State and County Employees. State Board members are appointed by the Governor

Here is Mr. Buescher's comment to Ms. Welch:
"I have to make a comment. I appreciate your passion, and your “stick-to-it ness”, on many issues I agree with you. At the same time, your language sometimes does not help build trust, your most recent email that uses the phrase “Gestapo tactics” offended me and makes it harder for me to listen to you. I was angry after reading you last email.

When you send out emails that challenge the integrity of state employees and county employees who I believe sometimes make mistakes but who they are good people trying to do their best. I ask you to be thoughtful about the rhetoric you use because I don’t think sometimes that it helps your cause. "