Smithfield Mayor Andy Moore tells WTSB News he was extremely disappointed to learn the Town of Smithfield Planning Department demanded social workers remove pinwheels placed on the lawn of the DSS building in recognition of Child Abuse Awareness Month.
Last Thursday, Smithfield Planning Director Paul Embler sent his Code Enforcement Officer to the Department of Social Services Building on US 301 and ordered the assistant director remove the 750 blue pinwheels removed immediately. Volunteers and staff spent several hours taking them down. Later they were told by Town Manager Michel Scott a mistake had been made and the pinwheels could be reinstalled. But the damage had already been done.
“The actions of the Planning staff were contrary to my efforts, and vision of building and harvesting a stronger working relationship with our partners in County Government. I apologize to the employees of DSS for this unfortunate act,” Mayor Moore said in a prepared statement. “The positive from this event is that it may bring more public awareness to Child Abuse, which so often goes unnoticed, or simply not discussed until too late.”
“It takes the lowest of the lowest to harm an innocent child, and we should be doing whatever we can to help raise awareness to this unthinkable act. Children are our future, and we should be working daily to ensure that all children are raised in a supportive and stable environment.”
Although he felt the intentions of the planning department staff were “good” Mayor Moore said however, “In my opinion, the resulting actions were over reaching.”
“Upon review, I am extremely glad that the Town Manager took into consideration the entire code, instead of limited sections, and came to the conclusion that the Pinwheel for Prevention display met the criteria for a legal exemption from the ordinance.
The pinwheels were meant to draw attention to the serious problem of child abuse in Johnston County. According to the county social workers, 6,949 reports of alleged abuse or neglect were received in 2016 in Johnston County. Of those calls, 1,522 were assigned to investigators. They involved over 3,900 children.
18 percent of the cases, involving 713 children, confirmed abuse or neglect.
At any given time, DSS has an average of 118 children in foster care in Johnston County.
In February, 511 new cases of alleged child abuse were received and 55 children were removed from homes and were placed with relatives.