PRESTON Doerflinger promises not to be a “placeholder” during his time as interim director of the Department of Human Services. How that manifests itself remains to be seen. What's important is that the person who follows Doerflinger in the job has the same mindset.
Bold leadership — maybe brave is a better word — is needed at the top of DHS, an agency that's under extra scrutiny following events that resulted in longtime director Howard Hendrick resigning. Hendrick had run DHS for more than 13 years and had accomplished a great deal. But the deaths of several children in DHS care, and the agency's handling of those cases, contributed to a groundswell of protest ranging from everyday citizens to the governor's office.
Gov. Mary Fallin appointed two new members to the Human Services Commission, the board that oversees DHS, after revelations that some board members were less than tuned in to the agency's work and seemed to know little about the details regarding a class-action lawsuit filed over foster care. That lawsuit has since been settled and work continues on an improvement plan that is a condition of the settlement.
The addition of the two new commission members, Brad Yarbrough and Wes Lane, has been a positive. Lane, a former Oklahoma County district attorney, is leading a special committee looking into the deaths of children and adults in DHS care. Yarbrough, commission chairman, is heading up a committee to determine the panel's proper oversight role.
That will be an important piece of DHS moving forward. Particularly during the tail end of Hendrick's time as director, the Human Services Commission tended not to dig into the data he presented at regular monthly meetings. This was reflected in depositions given by some commission members as part of the class-action lawsuit who said they simply relied on Hendrick or DHS staff to handle things.