27 Investigates: Duck defends his record

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) — 27 First News is still pushing for answers to the mystery surrounding Superintendent Dr. Larry Duck’s departure from the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Duck resigned on Monday.

In the meantime, Duck sat down Wednesday with 27 investigative reporter Amanda Smith to discuss his 13 years at the agency.

“I tried to bring a business like perspective to running the program and that doesn’t always sell well,” Duck said. “No one likes the administrative side of agencies like this. If you’re not dealing with clients and families, people tend to walk away from you.”

Duck, 64, said he was proud of what he has accomplished in his career.

“You have to have good buildings, you have to be financially solvent, you have to have quality staff and training. All that is important. So I think I brought that part,” Duck said.

He said he worked in the mental health field for 29 years, moving to Ohio and taking a job with what was formerly known as the Burdman Group in late 1976. He worked there for 24 years and took the job as MCBDD superintendent in March of 2001.

“It kind of surprised me that I got the job because I did not have my superintendent’s license at the time,” Duck said.

He said when he started with the agency, which at that time was referred to as the Mahoning County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, the board was considering building another workshop, but later decided against it. Instead, they built the Centre at Javit Court, which serves senior clients with developmental disabilities.

“I am proud of that accomplishment,” Duck said.

He said his 13-year administration was marked by fiscal conservatism, noting he used two strategies to keep the agency afloat without continually asking for increased support from taxpayers. He said he based the annual budgets on actual revenue coming in without relying on reserves. He said the agency operated in the black for 10 straight years without using its reserve funds for operating expenses.

Instead, the MCBDD used its reserves and leveraged local levy money to obtain additional Medicaid waivers. Duck said the agency has gone from 50 Medicaid waivers in 2001 to more than 800 now.

“That was a statewide strategy and it has worked tremendously,” Duck said.

He also said when he first started at the MCBDD, the agency was really the only place in town for clients with developmental disabilities. Now, he said there are between 15 and 20 agencies in Mahoning County alone, including the Purple Cat and Turning Point.

Duck said one of the other accomplishments under his tenure was receiving a five-year accreditation from the state in 2010, which is the maximum term. He said the agency previously received two-year and three-year accreditations, but the five-year is a testament to the agency’s operations.

Duck said he will be 65 in the fall and is looking forward to retirement. He said he may teach or do consulting work part-time, but he does not plan to continue working full-time.

Smith obtained a copy of the MCBDD’s settlement agreement with Duck, and asked attorney Matthew Mangino to evaluate it.

He said the severance package reads more like a buyout than anything else. The deal includes nearly a full year’s salary and medical coverage for six months.

“That’s typically not what happens when someone is terminated for cause. If there is a basis for termination, that’s typically the end of the story,” Mangino said.

There’s nothing in the agreement that indicates any wrongdoing.

“This appears to be a mutual agreement to separate,” Mangino said. “And it appears any allegations in the ethics probe were unfounded.”

Despite repeated requests, neither the board nor its attorney have given details about what led to Duck’s departure. Duck said he couldn’t comment because of a clause in the agreement.

Mahoning County Commissioners appoint more than half of the board members. They said they don’t know what caused the situation and also want answers.

“There had to be something somewhere for someone to be placed on leave for six months. I am getting conflicting stories. The only way the whole truth will come out so the people can understand is if we start a discussion and dialogue with the board itself,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti. “We’ll bring in the prosecutor’s office and maybe find out what’s happening as we did with CSB.”

She said all three commissioners were at Monday’s meeting, but they have not met with their appointed board members since Duck’s resignation. She said she had received “many calls” from parents and guardians of clients and they plan to meet in a few weeks with their appointed members and also will invite the two members appointed by Mahoning County Probate Judge Belinky and the judge himself.

“This has cost quite a bit so far but we can’t go against what the contract says. We will do some investigating on our own,” Rimedio-Righetti said.

Belinky said the two board members he appointed have not reached out to him about the situation and he does not expect them to do so.

“I have a different philosophy than the commissioners. I appoint these people based on their service to the special needs community and I figure it is up to them to be good and informed members and they will do what is right for the MCBDD,” Belinky said.

He said he has been monitoring the situation through media coverage and he was a little concerned it took so long to reach a resolution, but he is glad they are moving on and hiring a permanent replacement. He said assistant superintendent Chris Hodge has been doing a good job in Duck’s absence.

“Very few families who came into my court mentioned the fact that Duck was on leave, which is a tribute to the staff out there that they were able to keep the agency going,” Belinky said.

Our station has repeatedly asked for documents related to investigation and suspension, but have been denied. 27 First News will continue to pursue the release of these public documents and seek answers in this mystery.

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