IF there's an agency in state government where the next crisis is always mere moments away, it's the Department of Human Services. DHS is huge and its clientele are the state's most vulnerable, and often, among the most troubled.
For DHS over the past few weeks, it seemed every step forward was met with the proverbial two steps back. But the struggle is worth fighting because what's at stake is so important to the people DHS serves. And because it says a lot about who we are as a state. In fact, similar battles exist in every area of government, whether it be education or corrections or public health.
We're so appreciative for the boots-on-the-ground employees in local and state government who go to work every day determined to do the best possible job. But Oklahomans also owe thanks to those willing to take up leadership roles, whether on a paid basis or as a volunteer. These people bear the ire of the public when things go poorly and rarely get the kudos when things go well. That is the nature of public service.
Brad Yarbrough is Exhibit A. Yarbrough served as head of the DHS oversight board during a harrowing time. He helped steer the board through a class-action lawsuit that eventually was settled in part with a critical plan to overhaul parts of the child welfare system. But he stepped down as board chairman last week amid controversy that he tried to keep two other former board members involved in the agency by appointing them to a pair of DHS-related committees. The former board members had a passion for improving DHS but resigned due to potential conflicts of interest.
Yarbrough didn't get a unanimous thank you for his meritorious service. Not even close. One of his fellow board members instead wanted him censured.
We find other examples of exemplary public service connected to DHS, as well. Terri White, who heads the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, willingly agreed to add DHS responsibilities to her already full plate when the agency found itself in need of a temporary leader. She only relinquished the DHS duties when informed she couldn't hold two state jobs at once.
That's when Preston Doerflinger agreed to take leave from the Office of State Finance to temporarily head the DHS. When that will end is anyone's guess because the search for a permanent successor hasn't gone as planned.
That the state's most beleaguered public agency has on its side such dedicated public servants is no small matter. Given the years that the oversight commission was asleep at the wheel, that clearly wasn't always the case.
Examples can be found outside of DHS, too. Take David Prater, the Oklahoma County district attorney who faced allegations that a victory party after he won the seat in 2006 was an illegal fundraiser. Last week a grand jury cleared Prater and said the accusers fabricated evidence to back up their allegations. Prater has done a solid job as district attorney. Neither he nor the public (including the grand jurors) was well served by the time, energy and money spent fighting the false allegations.
Oklahoma is fortunate to have many dedicated public servants. We're glad they're willing to serve, even when the hours are long, the work is hard and the praise is hard to come by.