Social service workers–should anyone be unaware–have extraordinarily difficult jobs. Particularly in investigating allegations of child molestation. Their jobs are tougher still, when both the allegations and the investigations begin with, and build upon, circumstances as dubious as those related to Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers School in Citrus Heights, CA. Such cases can prove disastrous, however, when a Department is already under scrutiny by the public eye–not through any fault of frontline workers, but in response to the Department’s perceived “face”:  its Director.

Read all posts on Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers:

In May, 2011, California tax payers were alarmed to discover that the Department  had recruited its new director, Will Lightbourne, via an astounding three-year, $1.26 million-dollar contract. The news seemed particularly cruel amidst sweeping budget cuts and a staggering deficit, and when it was learned that a legislative salary cap, which would ordinarily restrict Lightbourne’s annual salary to $165,000, had been neatly circumvented.1

Regardless of one’s place in the political spectrum, such a salary is difficult to comprehend. Fiscal conservatives are outraged for obvious reasons. But the left has a hard time understanding why Lightbourne should earn one and a quarter million over the next three years, while the average pay for boots-on-the-ground, front-line social workers hovers between $30-$40,000.2

Lightbourne now makes tens of thousands of dollars more, yearly, than California’s governor, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr.3

In News 10’s Nick Monacelli’s story, “Social services director to earn $1.25M amidst budget cuts,” Jon Coupal, President of the largest taxpayers association in California, with a membership of over 200,0004, minced no words in responding to Lightbourne’s salary. “To suggest that we couldn’t find somebody on the face of the planet that wouldn’t do this job for $165,000 a year,” said Coupal, “is absurd.” California Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) went further, putting Lightbourne’s salary in its rightful perspective: “The average child grant through CalWorks,” said Jones, “is $500 a month.”

Lightbourne’s “extensive expertise in social services is why he believes he’s the best man for the job,” writes Monacelli, “even if he comes with a hefty price tag.”

Monicelli continues:

Reaction outside of Sacramento County’s Social Services buildings was as expected.

“It’s not fair to us,” Tammy Mogley said. “We’re struggling and they’re making half a million dollars almost — no, it’s not right. It does make you angry.”

To appease that anger, Lightbourne is asking for time. He said he wants an opportunity to realign programs and overhaul the social services system.

“I hope that the quality of the work that we do on their behalf meets their expectations,” Lightbourne said.5

Unfortunately, the quality of Lightbourne’s first high-profile case, with Creative Frontiers, does not bode well. Even if Citrus Heights police finally cobble together statements from disgruntled ex-workers, from parents with past failed lawsuits against the school–and, perhaps, from any number of the couple dozen families taken to small claims court over the years, for non-payment of their child’s tuition–the case, at best, will have sprung up around allegations from impeachable witnesses such as Irma Mertens, as well as allegations never reported at the time, and allegations solicited via cold calls and even a website form, and allegations that have been discussed and transformed and recycled, ad nauseam, for almost a full month now, via unfettered chatter in every comment area on every article in the local Sacramento Bee. Whatever “new” allegations social services and police are able to elicit in the midst of this community panic, will be interesting indeed–though likely tainted beyond repair, for the purposes of the prosecution.

Certainly Lightbourne, with his years of expertise, also knows what any person who drew breath in the 1980s knows–that the first inordinately botched investigations of high-profile, but groundless, alleged multi-victim child sexual abuse, as well as the longest and most expensive trial in America’s history at that time, occurred just hours away from Citrus Heights, the former beginning with Bakersfield, Kern County, and the latter in Manhattan Beach, with McMartin Preschool. Only time will tell if social services, in conjunction with Citrus Heights police, will repeat the mistakes that cost California millions in legal fees and lawsuits following bungled prosecutions and overturned convictions just a generation ago.

I have been at pains to make clear the following, and will continue to repeat it: 1) true sexual abuse of children is an all-too-real problem in the U.S. and elsewhere, and 2) it is high-profile false cases that not only deflect attention, but drain credibility from true cases, which are difficult enough to social workers to investigate without being compared, at every step, to such groundless and needless, but nonetheless devastatingly destructive, spectacles such as the one unfolding in Citrus Heights, with all its shades of the McMartin Preschool debacle (et al).

Speaking with Monacelli, Lightbourne had this to say about his salary: “It’s not my choice to comment on[,] but I do believe it will be value added.”

Lightbourne then explained, for those who don’t know, that “‘value added’ means the product the state eventually gets will be worth the expense.”

Indeed. Facing the disaster-in-the-making that is the State’s case against Creative Frontiers, all of California can only hope their expenses are limited to Lightbourne’s salary.


1 According to ABC News10, “Lightbourne still works for the County of Santa Clara — the state is simply contracting his services and reimbursing the county.” Nick Monacelli. “Social services director to earn $1.25M amidst budget cuts.” May 17, 2011. ABC News 10

2 California chapter of National Association for Social Workers and National Association for Social Workers

3 Shane Goldmacher. “California’s social services chief wins lucrative pay deal.” Los Angeles Times May 14, 2011.

4 Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association

5 Nick Monacelli. “Social services director to earn $1.25M amidst budget cuts.” May 17, 2011. ABC News 10