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9-year-old in hotel with 150 used needles may trigger subpoena of social services director

(Asheville Citizen-Times) - A top local child welfare official could be brought before a legislative panel after police say they were told to leave a 9-year-old girl in a hotel room with 150 used hypodermic needles and a man she barely knew.

N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Flat Rock, said he is asking a state legislative committee to subpoena Buncombe County Director of Social Services Talmadge "Stoney" Blevins over the way DSS dealt with the case.

"To try to understand what may have gone wrong in that incident on March 20, I feel I have no other option that to ask for the subpoena of Mr. Blevins," said Edwards, a two-term senator who is defending his seat against Democratic Mills River Councilman Brian Caskey.

Blevins offered no additional information in a meeting with Edwards and police, according to the senator. The director declined to comment to the Citizen Times. A county spokeswoman cited state law mandating confidentiality of DSS records.

It is not certain the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services will take the unusual step of ordering Blevins to appear, but co-chair Rep. Josh Dobson said Aug. 31 he backs Edwards' efforts and wants to take up the issue. "I am in full support of having this before the committee," said Dobson, a McDowell County Republican running for state labor commissioner against Democrat Jessica Holmes.

Legislative action? 

Edwards said he asked the N.C. Department of Social Services to look into the matter and was told he would be notified at the conclusion of their inquiry but has not heard back. 

He tried to get a law passed to give legislators access to DSS records but faced opposition from lawmakers who said it amounted to overreach.

"My belief is that for legislators to perform their oversight duties, they have to have access to the information," he said.

While it's not certain when the joint health and human services committee may meet to take any action, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger appeared to signal support, appointing Edwards to the Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group.