DCS Commissioner resigns day before scheduled testimony - WSMV News 4

DCS Commissioner resigns day before scheduled testimony

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Just one day before the commissioner for the Department of Children's Services was scheduled to testify before a state legislature committee, she has resigned.

Commissioner Kate O'Day quit Tuesday in the middle of one of the most tumultuous times for the state agency as it faces questions about the welfare of children in its care.

"Kate has informed me that she felt the time was right to step down," said Gov. Bill Haslam in a statement. "She was concerned that she had become more of a focus than the children the department serves."

State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville first asked DCS nearly 15 months ago to provide information regarding the deaths and near-deaths of all Tennessee children who had contact with the state agency since January 2009.

Fifteen months later, Jones said DCS still hasn't released that information, and now the commissioner is gone.

"I think she was a little in over her head, and this will be a good step for the department," Jones said. "The bad thing is so many children had to die and so many children had to be placed back with perpetrators."

Haslam appointed Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), as interim commissioner.

The former commissioner was set to testify before the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, and it is unclear whether she will now testify. Henry said he plans to attend the DCS hearing.

Henry is a man with a good reputation, but now he leads a department that many say has been broken for years.

"This is only about the children in the state and how we treat them. And it's our fault if they get hurt again, and it's our fault if they die. And we don't want that to happen anymore," Jones said.

Monday, DCS said it would cost a group of media outlets, including WSMV-TV, some $55,000 to acquire the information surrounding the 200 deaths of children in the agency's care since 2009.

Jones said she hopes Henry's first act is to reconsider what she calls nonsense.

"I knew that the department would come back with some outrageous number on redacting information, because that's what they do when they don't want to do something," Jones said.

Jones has filed legislation that would create a joint Department of Children's Services Oversight Committee to ensure that the children in DCS custody are not place in harm's way.

O'Day joined the Haslam administration in January 2011. Prior to that, she served as president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Tennessee in Knoxville. She began her career as a youth counselor with the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida and later served as vice president of program development and evaluation for Children's Home Society of Florida and director of program services for Covenant House of Florida.

"I appreciate Kate's service to this administration and to this state," said Haslam. "She has done a lot of good work in identifying longstanding problems that have hampered the department, and we will build on those efforts as we move forward."

Henry is the first commissioner of DIDD, which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on Jan. 15, 2011.

"I am grateful to Jim for agreeing to take on this interim role," Haslam said. "He has significant experience both in the private and public sectors and has devoted the better part of his life to caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens."

Before joining the Haslam administration, Henry served as president and chief executive officer of Omni Visions, Inc, a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. A Vietnam veteran and former mayor of Kingston, Henry spent 12 years as a state representative and six of those years as minority leader.

Henry will continue to serve as commissioner of DIDD during his interim role of leading DCS. The governor will immediately begin a search for a new commissioner of DCS.

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