Gov. Mary Fallin appointed former Oklahoma County prosecutor Wes Lane on Wednesday to serve as chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services.
Lane has been serving as a DHS commissioner since September, when Fallin appointed him to the agency's governing board.
“Since his appointment ..., Wes Lane has proven himself a dedicated advocate for Oklahoma's children and our most vulnerable citizens,” Fallin said in a statement. “In his new role as chairman of the DHS Commission, I expect Wes to continue to work toward implementing reforms at DHS — including the Pinnacle Plan to improve the child protection system — that will help improve the agency and the services it provides.”
Lane told The Oklahoman his top priorities will include working to make sure a top-quality agency director is selected as soon as possible, putting child welfare reforms in place and working to maintain continuity within the state's largest agency as it goes through a time of extraordinary upheaval.
It would be hard to imagine a more tumultuous time to serve as DHS chairman.
Rocked by a series of high-profile child abuse deaths, the agency settled a federal class-action lawsuit in January that alleged children were being harmed by their stays in DHS care.
As part of that settlement, the agency agreed to help craft a series of child welfare reforms that are to be approved and overseen by three out-of-state child welfare experts.
Longtime DHS Director Howard Hendrick announced his retirement in January.
Since then, three vacancies have opened up on the nine-member commission. Commissioners Steven Dow and Anne Roberts resigned in May amid concerns about possible conflicts of interest. Commissioner Jay Dee Chase died July 1.
The term of another commissioner, Richard DeVaughn, is scheduled to expire in August.
Brad Yarbrough added to the leadership vacuum in June when he announced he was resigning as chairman because of the excessive time commitment but would remain on as a commissioner. The announcement came at the same meeting that another commissioner was calling for Yarbrough's censure.
Public vote ahead
The Oklahoma Legislature contributed to the agency's current instability this past session when it passed legislation calling for a public vote in November on whether to abolish the DHS Commission and replace it with four citizen advisory panels with five members each that would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.