Who's behind Open Arms' problems? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Who's behind Open Arms' problems?

January 19, 2006

Albany -- Open Arms, Inc has filed suit against the state Department of Human Resources to find out who made unfounded accusations against the shelter and its employees.

They suspect Dougherty District Attorney Ken Hodges may be behind what they call a witch-hunt; an unfounded investigation, because Hodges doesn't like the shelter's executive director.

Open Arms' lawyer says abused children are the ones suffering because of it.

T. Gamble says Open Arms has the right to know who requested an investigation into the shelter's employees. "If we can prove that it was unfounded and was done so because of political motivation and also fraudulent means, we'll have the right to get that information, so I think we'll have a chance to find out," he said.

Gamble wants to find out who told the state that employees at Open Arms, specifically its executive director Beth McKenzie and her assistant, Rita Ellis, weren't properly credentialed.

"When the state came down to look at the files of some 28 employees, past and present, they found everyone of them to be 100 percent in order now and in the past and found no wrongdoing whatsoever," said Gamble.

Does he think it's very likely that someone who has a personal ax to grind sicked the state on Open Arms and its employees, so to speak? "I think that's without question."

While they can't prove it, some Open Arms employees are convinced that Dougherty District Attorney Ken Hodges is behind the investigation. Open Arms Director McKenzie publicly criticized Hodges because he helped Phoebe Putney Hospital find out who wrote the Phoebe Factoids.

She believes this is Hodges' way of retaliating against her.

Gamble has a message for whoever is responsible. "We're going to find out who you are, and as the Bible says 'In the last day there's going to be gnashing of teeth' and for you, whoever you are, the day will come when there will be gnashing of teeth because we will file an action concerning these improper investigations."

Investigations that have prevented some counties from sending abused children to Open Arms, a shelter that protects them. While the investigation was going on, the state took Open Arms off its list of approved providers.

As a result, 18 abused children were not sent to the shelter. And Gamble says they are the real victims in all this. "The people who are being harmed, the children, could not get the adequate resources they needed available for them."

Resources that will be available once Open Arms is back on the state's list of providers. But Open Arms won't stop until it finds out who's after them.

Gamble will make his arguments in Atlanta January 31st. The suit asks the court to put Open Arms back on the list of approved providers.

Ken Hodges is not named in the lawsuit. Late this afternoon, Hodges says he has had no contact with the Department of Human Resources regarding Open Arms or any other state agency.

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