In the introduction to his new book on race and the criminal justice system, Jerome Miller writes that he takes refuge in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, who held that “while sins of the intellect may be great, those of passion are more easily forgiven.”

After 18 months as the first federally appointed general receiver for the District’s child welfare system, Miller’s sins might test the absolving powers of Aquinas himself. Vested with near-dictatorial power, Miller was given a broad and historic mandate to transform the agency by almost any means necessary and bring administrative relief to the kids languishing under the District’s care. But by any objective standard, his tenure has been fraught with the kind of chaos and crisis that receivership is designed to eliminate. No one said it was going to be easy—the District’s child welfare system had a disgraceful and well-deserved reputation for letting down the kids it was designed to protect—but Miller appears to be a victim rather than a master of that same bureaucracy.

Miller’s travails are just the latest episode in a long history of bureaucratic abuse and neglect in the District’s Department of Human Service (DHS)’s child welfare agency. Years of litigation on behalf of the children served by the agency failed to produce any tangible results, so a limited receivership was put in place on Oct. 1, 1994, and finally, on May 22, 1995, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ordered a full general receivership—making D.C. the first city in the nation to require a federal receiver for its child welfare system.

After some prodding, Miller left his perch at the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA), a liberal Virginia-based think tank he founded in 1977 after a long career as a criminologist, and agreed to act as receiver.

The lawyers who initiated the lawsuit on behalf of the children—known as the LaShawn case—thought Miller was an excellent choice to be the nation’s first foster care receiver. A classic bleeding-heart liberal with a genuine interest in the welfare of children, Miller demonstrated his ability to shake up entrenched bureaucracies when he shut down all of Massachusetts’ reform schools during the 1970s, facing down gun-toting disgruntled employees in the process. He had a reputation as a nonconformist and a visionary—advocates had reason to hope that Miller might be able to see a new way out of the District’s perennial foster care mess. Promising a quick and dirty turnaround, Miller initially predicted he’d be in and out of District government in 18 months.

Eighteen months later, he may be right about his length of tenure, but the turnaround is nowhere in sight. The receivership itself is under fire for draining millions from the District’s coffers in salaries, expenses, and stop-gap contracts. Speculation about the 64-year-old Miller’s staying power is rampant among the very people who lobbied for his appointment, who are now starting to wonder if the nonconformism they saw as his strength is merely adding to the chaos at child welfare.

Historically, D.C. has supplied dreadful child welfare services to its clients—neglected and abused children who need to be protected or even removed from their homes. Its foster care and adoption services have been particularly horrific; children were set adrift on the sea of the city’s protective services, floating through placement after placement. On average, kids were spending 4.8 years in the D.C. foster care system, compared with a national average of 17 months. Caseload ratios prevented any real intervention, and kids who entered the system rarely came out the better for it. In 1989, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought suit against the city on behalf of the children in the system, and the case went to trial in 1991. An extensive court order resulted, which the city has failed to comply with ever since. In 1994, for example, the death rate for children affiliated with D.C.’s child welfare system was three times that of New York or Los Angeles.

Ironically, it was the agency’s social workers who had brought the ACLU onto the scene in the first place, back in 1989. They had been working for years in substandard conditions that made doing their jobs all but impossible, yet they say Miller has done little to change that.

“Most of us applauded when the receivership came. We thought this was the answer to all our prayers,” says social worker supervisor Pablo Ruiz-Salomon, who adds that Miller has proved to be a dysfunctional manager who communicates by rumor. “We thought we’d have all the essentials for us to do a competent job,” Ruiz-Salomon adds.

But staffers in the child welfare office still labor under many of the same handicaps other District workers face, even though they are under a receivership, a status that should allow them access to the resources they need to do their jobs. To this day, social workers have no identification badges to gain access to clients’ residences, courts, and hospitals. Their offices are cramped and without adequate telephone and computer service. Staffers give Miller the rap for making a bad situation even more untenable.

“I would be hard pressed to find a person in this agency who trusts Dr. Miller,” Ruiz-Salomon says. “When you put together what’s going on with Congress, the District management, and the rumors, then you have people who are rightfully scared.”

Miller says he cannot afford to run his office by referendum.

“They are just going to have to trust me on this,” says Miller. “It’s a dicey thing. You want to address their concerns, but I can’t wait to act until I’ve gotten a consensus.”

But it isn’t the lack of consensus that has observers worried, it’s the lack of results.

“I don’t think anybody could say we’re seeing any payoff from [the receivership]. We’re not. [The new system is] not in place,” asserts Marcia Robinson Lowry, the lead attorney in the LaShawn case. She was one of the key players in Miller’s appointment as receiver. Lowry now heads the New York-based Children’s Rights Inc., an ACLU spinoff, which is filing similar class-action suits in cities from New York

to Milwaukee.

There is little practical evidence that Miller has succeeded in turning things around in child welfare. To date, unplaced children still sleep in the agency’s offices overnight, the turnover rate of social workers and the case ratios remain chronically high, and the agency still doesn’t have a functioning committee to investigate the deaths of children in foster care.

Miller still has no idea what caused the death of 13-year-old Edward Rayfield Ward, who ran away in May 1996 from a group home for abused and neglected kids in northwest Washington—where he had been improperly placed—and in June wound up dead in a bedroom closet in a southeast Washington home. Roaches and ants had eaten away at his corpse.

Last spring, Miller’s office placed eight kids in Riverside Hospital on MacArthur Boulevard, knowing full well that the institution was at the time neither accredited, licensed as a residential care facility, nor certified by the Medicaid office to take foster kids from DHS. What Miller’s office didn’t know, and apparently didn’t bother to find out, was that the hospital was also owned and operated by a psychiatrist named Jacob Fishman. Fishman’s résumé includes a $1.2-million civil settlement in a government health care benefits fraud case in North Carolina that involved a similar psychiatric institution for children. Fishman surrendered his North Carolina medical license as a result (see “Practice Makes Perfect,” 9/13/96).

And on June 13, Metropolitan Police Department officers arrested a Riverside staffer for allegedly assaulting three teenage patients—one a 15-year-old girl placed there by Miller’s office. To his credit, Miller responded quickly and sent staffers to camp out with the kids until they could be moved to other facilities. But the incident infuriated social workers and raised serious questions about Miller’s stewardship of the child welfare agency. One of the reasons he was brought in was to keep D.C. kids out of unlicensed treatment programs.

Ward’s death and the events at Riverside have people wondering at what point the receiver’s bold new plan will begin to show up in something besides negative headlines. Much of the focus is on Miller’s strategic plan, due out Feb. 3. The plan, and the judicial evaluation that will come with it, are not just seen as a gauge of Miller’s tenure, but of the receivership approach to chronic child welfare bungling.

Miller himself is aware of the stakes.

“The reason for all the upset in the past couple weeks is because we’re on the verge of either making this happen in a big way or it’s all down the tubes, and people sense that,” says Miller.

Miller takes American social ills personally. It shows in his face when he talks to groups on the state of juvenile justice. It shows in a lifestyle that is missionarylike in its modesty. In the introduction to his book Search and Destroy, Miller admits to suffering from recurring bouts of “irascibility and depression” spurred by a ringside seat on the effects of race and crime in American culture. After decades of studying the pernicious effects of racism in the criminal justice system, Miller came to his job in the District with a sensitivity to race that today seems so extreme that it borders on patronizing.

Highly conscious of his role as a court-appointed “master” over a symbolically black government, Miller initially trod lightly upon taking over the city’s checkered child welfare agency. Even though a receiver is a functional dictatorship, Miller didn’t want to be seen as the white guy ragging on a largely black government. As a result—and much to the disappointment of the advocates who had recruited him—Miller began his tenure as receiver by making nice with Mayor Marion Barry, whom advocates hold largely responsible for the mess in the first place. Miller’s critics say that his early attempt to work with the District government is part of the reason he has so little to show for his efforts this far into his tenure.

“There’s a sense that what was accomplished in the first year should have been accomplished in the first four months,” says Judith Meltzer, a senior associate with the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), the LaShawn monitoring agency. (CSSP’s oversight on the LaShawn court order was suspended until earlier this month, when a roughly $220,000 contract was finally signed with the receiver.)

While Miller walked on eggshells around entrenched bureaucracies, he wasn’t shy when it came to spending money to get the department moving. There were whispers from the start that he was making unwise budget decisions, but the first clear sign that the receivership was headed for troubled waters was an audit conducted by former D.C. Auditor Russell Smith, a respected D.C. government hand who is now with the control board. In his audit, Smith charged that Miller was imprudently using taxpayer dollars and called for his removal as fiduciary. Miller dismissed the report’s findings as vengeful “guerrilla tactics,” but after its release in late July he quickly brought in a top-flight CFO, Harry Black.

The report indicated that Miller had procured 24 independent contractors without a competitive bidding process—after the report, NCIA, among others, also received a noncompetitive contract.

“I don’t have any apology for that,” he says, noting that he obtained a legal opinion from the D.C. firm of Howrey & Simon about contracting with NCIA. “I don’t get nothing from NCIA,” he says. “The point of the receivership is to go around [the city’s personnel and procurement process] to get things done. If we had followed a competitive bidding process, we still wouldn’t have a single contract.”

He says the current arrangements are ad hoc, designed as temporary means to jump-start the plan, but he has no definitive idea when a competitive bidding process will start. If expenditures continue as they have, the agency will dole out more than $1 million in noncompetitive contracts to both NCIA and to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), which is run by his protégé Vincent Schiraldi, according to projections made by Black. Already, in the first quarter of fiscal 1997, the receiver has paid out $230,000 to NCIA and $200,000 to CJCJ.

“I’m supposed to have contracts with people I’ve never heard of?” scoffs Miller, noting that the child welfare community is insular by nature—that everyone knows everyone else. “I wish there were 10 more Vinnie Schiraldis out there,” he says.

Agency social workers are also concerned about how children are referred to these contractors. Not only do service providers sit on the residential review panel, there is no psychiatrist making decisions about placements. Although there is a psychologist on the review panel, the absence of a medical doctor on a panel that chooses treatment for very sick children leaves many in the agency disgusted.

“Some of the kids are severely disturbed and require residential treatment. Many have been abused all their lives. Some are psychotic and in seriously bad shape,” says an agency manager who asked not to be identified.

Many in the agency don’t feel they have enough information to ensure that kids are being placed in settings that will allow them to heal. “There is an incredible lack of oversight and accountability,” says Ruiz-Salomon. “We don’t have any specific information, for example, as to what CJCJ will do.”

At-Large Councilmember Linda Cropp, who called for the agency audit in the first place, says Miller’s cavalier approach to contractors is out of step with the times. “After all, the money still comes from the city—the taxpayers—and we are going through a fiscal crisis in the District,” says Cropp.

Smith’s audit also found that Miller raised his own salary from $130,000 to $156,000 and arbitrarily doled out excessive salaries and bonuses to his staff. Miller maintains that his and other employees’ benefits were not part of the original salary set by the judge and that his salary, which is higher than the mayor’s or the DHS director’s, is in line with that of federal housing receiver David Gilmore.

Even after the summer audit by Smith, which detailed the receiver’s lack of internal financial oversight, including agency credit card abuse by employees who have since been terminated, fraud continues to be uncovered. Black’s staff discovered that an employee embezzled $80,000 from the agency, a case the FBI is still investigating.

While there is no evidence that Miller has personally benefited from any of the contracts he’s let or the people he’s hired, the agency is still falling far short of its mission. Miller, who spent so many years in juvenile justice, may be not so much overmatched as outside his field of expertise. Critics inside his department say that all the big money didn’t buy anything in the way of experience with child welfare or the District. For example, Miller brought in Tim Roche, a criminal justice policy specialist who had worked for nearly a decade under Miller at NCIA, and Michael Gatling from the American Correctional Association. Miller’s hires—with the exception of Deputy Receiver Audrey Sutton, who had high-level experience in Prince George’s County child welfare—were largely plucked from the world of juvenile justice. The two approaches are bound to create conflicts: Corrections typically focuses on rehabilitating perpetrators of crime, while child welfare looks after the interests of victims. Miller sees both as victims.

And while the clash between hired guns and longtime employees comes with any receivership, the turmoil in child welfare went beyond garden-variety in-fighting. Turnover has been high, even among people Miller has brought in, and daily turf wars have gotten in the way of the agency’s primary mission. Key managers state that they have often been excluded from crucial meetings and rendered ineffective. For instance, although Sutton brought a wealth of real-world managerial experience to her role as deputy receiver, she was reportedly nudged aside after the audit brought Black onto the scene.

The problems in Miller’s office are disheartening to children’s advocates, who look around the city at other receiverships and see tangible improvements. City’s housing receiver Gilmore, who was appointed in May 1995, has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. And Ronald M. Shansky, who was named to fix the medical and health care system in D.C.’s jails, is making progress against similarly daunting odds.

Stung by the criticism, Miller says he has been unfairly singled out for scrutiny.

“It strikes me as odd that they’ve focused on this receivership. They’ve left the jail receiver alone. And they’ve left David Gilmore all alone over in housing and he’s doing very well. The big difference, of course, is David is federally funded, so he’s never had to go through the District. And then along the way he discovered $50 million that was unspent and unused and available. If I could discover $50 million we’d be in fine shape,” Miller says.

Miller says the labyrinth of the District government offered him only disdain on top of its classic dysfunction. Not only did the city not work to make things better, many city officials spent their days actively undermining his efforts. “When it comes to the receivership, it’s more than meltdown, there’s really been an active disposition to undo us at every point,” Miller says.

As a result, he says, it took him more than a year to get control of the agency’s approximately $90-million-a-year budget. “Every time we said we were going to do something, we’d never get the money,” Miller says.

Miller’s complaints about his budget seem disingenuous. Armed with a federal court order, Miller had the power to seize his budget from DHS from the very beginning. A phone call to the judge who made him a receiver in the first place would have brought orders to cooperate or face prosecution. So far, though, Miller has never used the court order he was given to wrest control of his agency from the entrenched bureaucrats who’d been obstructing change for decades.

“I didn’t want to come in arrogant, saying we want this and we’re going to take it,” Miller explains. “I’ve been aware of the race issue, and that’s partially why I avoided being too aggressive coming in here. I am a white guy living in Alexandria, so I’ve been sensitive to that.”

Miller’s knee-jerk liberalism and community-based approach seem to have allowed him to be co-opted by the city’s very charming black mayor. When his appointment was announced, Thomas C. Wells, executive director of the Consortium for Child Welfare, an umbrella group of foster care nonprofits now under contract with the receiver, called Miller to congratulate him and to discuss future meetings. Wells also tried to give him some advice about the District government, which he knew well from having worked for it as a social worker. But Miller told Wells that he had met with Barry and that he believed that Barry “cares about children” and that he could work with him. Wells knew right away that Miller didn’t understand the nature of the receivership—that working with a corrupt bureaucracy that had ignored the interests of children was the last thing he was supposed to be doing.

“Miller’s style is to work things through personal relationships,” says Wells, who testified in the original LaShawn case. “Miller tried to do back-door politics, and in the District you can’t initiate back-door politics,” he says. “You have to use the club you’re given.”

Miller admits his learning curve in District politics has been a steep one. It took some time to figure out that Barry’s olive branch of cooperation was bullshit.

“You’ll meet with [D.C. Corporation Counsel] Chuck Ruff and he’ll be extremely friendly. He’ll say things like, ‘Jerry, you’re our only hope to change this. This is our real opportunity.’ Then I’ll meet with the mayor and he’ll say the same thing, and he’ll even say, ‘Why don’t we combine all youth services in your department and take youth services from corrections and mental health?’ Then I’ll say fine and then I’ll leave, and the next day we’ll be in court, and they’ll be trying to get rid of me,” Miller recalls.

A job in the D.C. government has come to be known as the ultimate in career litmus tests. People who are superstars in other environments often fail when they come here. “It’s always been an enigma why that’s true,” CSSP’s Meltzer says. “The District is a master at giving you just enough to think you have a deal.”

Miller’s lifelong record of intellectually inspired innovation may have met its match in his receivership. In a way, his curriculum vitae left him uniquely unprepared for life in the bureaucratic front lines of District government—his personal and professional philosophy is based on the redemptive capacity of all human beings, a philosophy that doesn’t fit well with the mandate of a receiver. Miller is an old-fashioned ideologue whose experience is rooted in the criminal justice system. NCIA specialized in getting criminals placed in programs that kept them out of jail and held out the promise of rehabilitation.

Miller has a fundamental belief that all bad behavior stems from environment and that incarceration only makes people—and by extension, communities—worse. In the past, he has attended sentencing hearings with criminals and presented evidence that the defendant had suffered from poverty, child abuse, and other social ills. By his reasoning, one could conclude that the defendant had had almost no choice but to turn to a life of crime. Everyone, in Miller’s view, can be saved, if only given the opportunity.

While his theories have proved successful on the criminal justice level, when applied to child welfare—and even to his management of the agency—they are a model for disaster. The child welfare system, at least in its current form, is designed to protect children, a mandate that requires social workers to work with the police and prosecutors to remove children from abusive homes and prosecute their parents for the abuse—something Miller seems loath to do. His focus has been on preserving and uplifting families, a goal most child welfare advocates support, so long as the desire to help adults doesn’t come at the expense of their children.

People who know Miller say he truly cares about at-risk children, but his steadfast belief in the inherent evil of the criminal justice system has resulted in some disastrous decisions.

For instance, after it became known that he had hired Latrena D. Pixley as a clerical worker even though she had smothered her infant daughter to death in 1992, he refused to fire her, saying she had already paid the price for her transgression. (Pixley was given a suspended sentence after invoking postpartum depression as a defense.) At the time of her employment, the agency was evaluating Pixley to see whether she was fit to keep one of her other children, and in 1996 she was sent to prison for credit card fraud committed in 1994 and 1995. Social workers—whose job is to remove children from abusive homes—were livid that Miller would hire someone whose history was so completely at odds with the agency’s mission to protect children.

Miller is nothing if not a man of principle—he says he would immediately hire her if she were released from jail. “I’ll take her back in a minute. This is not Madeleine Albright,” he says. “The fact that a social worker would be upset about hiring someone who committed such an awful act tells me they are probably a lousy social worker and shouldn’t be in

the agency.”

Miller also has a soft spot for young black men who have been in the criminal justice system; they are the subject of Search and Destroy. In 1995, while appearing on Jesse Jackson’s television show just before assuming the receivership, Miller met Kwasi Seitu, a social justice advocate who claims to have unjustly spent more than 10 years in a Mississippi prison. Seitu appeared regularly on BET’s For Black Men Only. Miller hired Seitu as an assistant facilities manager (and one of the handful of minority members of Miller’s staff), but Seitu was charged with neglect and simple assault of his daughter, who became a ward of the agency after he was hired. Social workers were incensed when Miller put him on administrative leave and then tried to provide him legal backing. Miller eventually fired him. (Seitu charges that Miller fired him in the end not because of the incident with his daughter, which was a misdemeanor, but because he challenged Miller’s contracting practices and Miller found his conduct and philosophy at odds with that of the agency.)

Again, though, Miller is unapologetic about his decision, and he criticizes the social workers for suggesting that Seitu should be dealt with punitively rather than supported in an effort to change his ways. “You’d hope that the workers here would support this sort of thing. It does reflect, I think, what sjyfome of the problems with this agency are that they would be so put off,” Miller says. “I think a lot in the agency are put off by young black males, period. They just go bonkers.”

Miller’s devotion to the disadvantaged may be unique, but his hiring strategy isn’t so different from Barry’s. It may be a kind and thoughtful way of uplifting the poor, but it’s a terrible way to run a government agency.

Miller walks into his second-floor office suite, nested in the spacious and swank Railway Express Building behind Union Station at 900 2nd St. NE, followed by a couple of aides. He seems to be in an incredibly upbeat mood for a guy who just returned from a meeting this December morning with social workers to squash wild rumors that he plans to fire them all in January.

“How did it go?” asks Ruby Price, Miller’s secretary.

“Good. Much better than I expected,” responds Miller, walking into his office, a cluttered but well-lighted space. “This is to be expected,” says Miller, recalling that similar rumors circulated in Massachusetts 27 years ago when he came in as the commissioner of youth to shut down the state’s reform schools. There, state employees opposed to his efforts protested on the courthouse steps—one disgruntled employee even pulled a gun on him in his office. After that ordeal, Miller thought he was prepared for the District, and he came in guns-a-blazing.

While Miller has shied away from confrontations with Barry and Ruff, he hasn’t been shy about taking on rank-and-file social workers and other front-line employees. Released in late January 1996, Miller’s 120-day progress report characterized the agency’s social workers as inept and said they routinely practiced poor case management. “The intransigence of the bureaucracy apparently has greatly less to do with financial or program issues than with ‘turf’ issues,” he wrote. “There is little indication that the District’s personnel and procurement mechanisms can be made sufficiently responsive to warrant placing the goals of the receivership at risk by depending upon them.”

In a Dec. 5 letter to John Hill, executive director of the control board, Miller made no secret of his intention to get rid of many of those line staffers. “We will reduce the total number of agency staff to those who are most skilled in providing child welfare services at a local community-based level,” he wrote. “We intend over the next six months to reduce monetary outlays associated with maintaining a large administrative work force and facility.”

No one disputes that some of these folks need to go. The agency’s incompetence has been well documented, and Miller’s vision of a reinvigorated child welfare system is a radical one that will require new blood. But Miller was so busy putting targets on people that he never enrolled any of the front-line workers who would actually implement his vision.

“He hasn’t gone out of his way to ingratiate himself to the line staff,” says LaShawn monitor Meltzer.

As a result, from his first days on the job, Miller met with stubborn resistance from people who had outlasted many other top dogs who had come in with a mandate to clean house. The DHS rumor mill immediately started churning, with staffers from the Child and Family Services division sending anonymous faxes to reporters accusing Miller of all sorts of improprieties. Miller has gotten his share of hate mail, which often accuses him of being a racist. He’s been pilloried in an underground newsletter called It’s Outrageous, which published the biweekly payroll tallies of all the receiver staffers. Tension in the agency got so bad at one point that deputy receiver Sutton was locked out of her office by District employees.

It’s tough to pin down the animosity between the receiver and the District’s child welfare agency. Is Miller being undermined by the people he is trying to lead because he has rocked the boat, or because he is threatening to sink the ship? The clash of agendas is so confusing that child welfare advocates have been reluctant to call for Miller’s ouster. Even the lawyers and court-ordered monitors overseeing the receivership have rarely been able to find a reasonable measurement of progress in an agency that has never had a clearly defined mission.

On Dec. 10, all the District’s child welfare players assembled in Hogan’s chambers in U.S. District Court for a status hearing on the progress the receiver had made to date.

Lowry, the LaShawn plaintiff’s attorney, spoke first. Though acknowledging problems with the data, she said, “The numbers have improved in many areas, but adoption remains a problem.”

Cheryl Zigler, with the Office of the Corporation Counsel, was quick to challenge the report. “When it suits the receiver he relies on data to say progress is being made, but when the data is not in his favor he says there’s a problem with it.”

Hogan decided to wait for the strategic report from the receiver due on Feb. 3, saying that “the court is not going to micromanage the agency.” He added that “what concerns me really is how the children are doing.”

After the hearing, Lowry said, “We’ll never know what the true net progress is because we’ll never have a good base line,” explaining that no one, not even the receiver, has been able to create and install a state-of-the art foster care tracking system. “I don’t think anybody trusts the numbers off the computer system,” she says.

Yet some of Miller’s supporters say that what he is trying to do is so radical and new that it will not have immediate results, but that in the long run it will not only help children but restore communities and rebuild family structures to prevent child abuse. Miller’s plan to fix the system is to set up a network of collaboratives—a flexible, comprehensive, family-centered, and neighborhood-based delivery system throughout the District—on which the agency will be built.

Broadly, the organizations will strive to keep families together, prevent out-of-home placements, reduce child abuse and neglect cases, and increase services that support reunification of families and children in foster care, according to the receiver. Four such collaboratives were hatched in 1996, largely off the backbone of existing programs independently created by communities.

“If I just wanted to shake the agency up so that there were more social workers assigned to cases and people were being seen, we could do that. But what I want to do is much more profound than that. I will not leave this agency in a position where with a single appointment someone could come in here and totally undo it,” says Miller. “I want people who can commit to this plan. I don’t want to have to spend a year and a half convincing people to buy into this model.”

For the most part, however, Miller already has a consensus on the collaboratives, which are the cutting edge of child welfare systems. In fact, if the advocates themselves had his job, they would likely choose the collaborative model to fix the system. “I trust neighborhood communities more than DHS, Miller, or the mayor,” Wells says.

Miller has defenders as well. Susan Zox-Smith, of D.C. Action for Children, says, “Management style aside, he has moved in a very broad area. Seven areas of the city are involved in community building now. It wouldn’t have moved without his encouragement and raising money. He’s a visionary that way. Somebody who only focuses on today or tomorrow wouldn’t have understood how to nurture it. If that’s all he left, it would be better than before he came.”

Still, there are those who point out that while Miller has been building collaboratives, his agency has been falling apart.

“Neighborhood-based services are a very good idea, but simply saying services are going to be provided by neighborhoods doesn’t mean services will be,” says Lowry.

“I don’t think any of us have a problem with having community-based programs. We’re committed to the empowerment of children and communities,” says Ruiz-Salomon. “How can you build a foundation on quicksand? How can you build a structure when everyone seems not to be on the same page about what it is that’s going to happen.”

What’s more, critics contend he will leave behind nothing but scorched earth by the time he leaves his receivership.

“He is given so much leeway he actually believes he doesn’t have to comply with the law,” says Seitu. “He wants to be able to say he decentralized the agency, but from what I see he has been tearing apart the agency.”

After a year and a half, observers think it’s time that Miller’s grand plan trickles down to D.C.’s neglected and abused children.

“I’m not going to say, ‘End it all at this point,’” Councilmember Cropp says. “But there needs to be some change.”CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.