HOWARD Hendrick got a standing ovation Tuesday upon announcing his retirement as director of the Department of Human Services. He deserves that applause — and much more — for all that he has done in leading an agency that’s the most difficult to run in the state.As recently as late last week, Hendrick indicated he wasn’t sure how much longer he would stay at the DHS helm. He hinted that he was months away from deciding. It’s now evident that he was already moving toward the decision that will put him out of the office by the end of February — it takes time to compose 5,200 words, which was the length of Hendrick’s letter of resignation. We honor Hendrick for his dedicated service. A list of the agency’s accomplishments under his leadership would fill volumes, and he mentioned some of them in his letter. Among them: A tripling in child support collections; creation of the Swift Adoptions program; the great work of the agency’s food stamp program, which has seen record demand in recent years; the maturation of DHS’s Reaching for the Stars child care system; and a reduction in the number of child welfare victims in the past decade. Addressing DHS employees, Hendrick wrote that he knows “the reason many of you do this work is not the words you get from me or the money you are paid, but the smiles and encouragement you receive from the families who benefit from the work. OKDHS is an incredible place to work because our employees are committed to our mission, to each other and to the families we serve.” Nevertheless, we believe DHS needed invigorated leadership, particularly as it moves forward following the settlement of a class-action lawsuit involving the child welfare division. The agency’s employees needed to know who they would be working for. The public needed to know who would take the agency into an era that will be every bit as challenging as the 13-plus years in which Hendrick was director. The time is right for a new director; Hendrick himself noted that the average stay nationwide for those in his position is 2-4 years. The DHS needs new enthusiasm, new energy and new ideas. A deliberate search can now begin for his successor. This should be a national search focused on finding someone with experience running a large public agency, a person with demonstrated expertise in social services. Hendrick and his predecessor were former lawmakers. The next director should not come from the Legislature. Lawmakers should be involved in finding ways to make the next director’s job more manageable. This could include a restructuring. It should certainly include better funding. As Hendrick’s time at DHS comes to an end, the agency’s governing body is demonstrating that its members have more of a role to play than they’ve played in the past. To quote the Broadway lyrics Hendrick cited in his resignation letter, the board must send a clear message to the next director: You’ll never walk alone.