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Lynn resigns from Youth Ranch board
Jul 21, 2006 12:00 am
Distressed by revelations of sexual allegations and charges at the Wilson County Youth Ranch and citing a desire to change the law regarding juveniles in state custody, State Rep. Susan Lynn resigned from the Youth Ranch Board of Directors on Sunday.
In a letter dated July 16, Lynn resigned her seat effective immediately "to avoid any conflict of interest." In her letter she was "distressed by the revelations that have recently come to light" about the Ranch.
"It really could be a conflict of interest to me to be attempting to pass legislation that may very well affect an organization where I serve on the board, so I want to avoid any such appearance," Lynn said. "But my short tenure has helped me learn a tremendous amount about things I want to look into further and things that need to be done."
The Mt. Juliet Republican said she wants to write a law on classifying juveniles within the Department of Children's Services based on their non-criminal or criminal backgrounds. DCS already has a policy classifying juveniles in their care at different levels, but no current law clarifies it.
Lynn explained Level I offenders are non-criminal, while Level II is minor crimes and Level III can range from aggravated robbery to aggravated assault. As part of what DCS calls a "stepdown" program, Level III offenders, after rehabilitation and counseling, can become Level II if they show marked improvement. DCS officials have said these former Level III offenders can and have been placed at the Youth Ranch, as the Ranch accepts only Levels I and II.
"When you start mixing these kids who have seen so much, done so much and been through so much with these other kids who just haven't been there, you start influencing the level II kids and teaching them the tricks of the level III kids, and you just don't want to do that," Lynn said in June.
The likely legislation will likely have to wait until the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2007, but Lynn said it's possible placement issues could be addressed by the government operations committees in the House and Senate before then.
Youth Ranch Board of Directors President Jeff Rowlett thanked Lynn for her service.
"I hate to lose more good board members, but I did appreciate the time she's put into it," Rowlett said.
While the Youth Ranch has experienced problems in the past few months, Lynn highlighted steps the Board of Directors are taking to address problems with Youth Ranch management, as former director Ron Smith recently resigned.
The state representative said the Youth Ranch has hired former director Mark Akers to serve as an interim director and consultant on the future of the Wilson County Youth Ranch, which has been besieged with problems over the past couple of months.
"He was hired to lead us to another organization to take over the day-to-day operations, to review all the current policies and procedures and staff," Lynn said, adding it is possible the Ranch could be taken over by a larger group.
"We realize the employees get very nervous," she added, "… but as long as they're an employee who does a good job, they have nothing to fear and the Ranch will keep running."
Rowlett did not specifically say the board is considering hiring an outside company, but said Akers' job as a consultant is to review all available options.
"He's working through the transition period here," Rowlett said. "… We're looking at all our options, and that's part of Mark's job, to do his due diligence, see what our options are and make the best decisions."
Recent sexual allegations
Amy Morrison-King, a 40-year-old former Ranch employee indicted on allegations she used a Youth Ranch van to pick up two adult men to have sex with 15-year-old girls at the Rocky Road satellite facility in Lebanon, likely passed the state-mandated background check, Lynn said.
"I can only assume that the past management did everything that they were supposed to do, and the state does check that out," Lynn said.
Morrison-King, who has yet to be located, was indicted on two charges of criminal responsibility for statutory rape and four counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
One of the men – Christopher L. Carver, 20 – was arrested by Lebanon police in Nashville last week. The other man, 24-year-old Gary Jackson, has yet to be found. Both men have been indicted on one count each of statutory rape.
Carver remains in the Wilson County Jail on a $5,000 bond.
A previous incident involving the suspected sexual assault of a female employee by two juvenile males at the main Mt. Juliet facility heated up after Youth Ranch managers failed to report the alleged assault to law enforcement. The failure to report the incident is being investigated by the Wilson County Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Rowlett has said the Ranch is working with local law enforcement and juvenile officials to "implement positive solutions that will provide the best possible care and treatment for our clients and to safeguard our community."
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.