GOV. Mary Fallin made a good choice in naming Wes Lane to chair the board that oversees the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. How long Lane winds up holding the job is anyone's guess.
His predecessor, Brad Yarbrough, served nine months as chairman of the Human Services Commission before relinquishing the job in June, citing the tremendous amount of time required to do the job well. Wrestling with other commissioners and trying to keep an eye on DHS during a time of important transition had put Yarbrough through the wringer — he wanted to give up his chairmanship in March, but stuck around at Fallin's urging. Indeed at the meeting where he stepped down as chairman (he remains a commissioner), one board member sought to have Yarbrough censured over one of his decisions.
Lane joined the board at the same time as Yarbrough, but he could be eased out in November. That's when voters will be asked if they want to do away with the Human Services Commission and replace it with four citizen advisory panels whose members would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.
That proposal was offered by the Legislature as a way to change the monitoring and operations of DHS, the state's largest agency and one that has been the subject of considerable upheaval in the past year. Concerns about a series of high-profile child abuse deaths, and lax oversight by board members, prompted Fallin to appoint Yarbrough and Lane last September. Subsequently, the agency's longtime director resigned and the state settled a class-action lawsuit filed over DHS's care of foster children. As part of that settlement, a number of reforms are being implemented that will require strong leadership from the next agency director.
The search for that person has taken longer than hoped — instead of getting someone on board by July 1, the search continues. The selection will be made by the Human Services Commission, but November's ballot question would remove that authority and instead make the position one that's appointed by the governor.
Lane takes over a nine-member board that's in flux. Former members Anne Roberts and Steven Dow resigned in May over what proved to be bogus conflict-of-interest concerns, and Jay Dee Chase died July 1. Another member, Richard DeVaughn, is due to term out in August. Lane's hope is that Fallin will move forward and fill any vacancies with people who would be willing to serve on one of the citizen advisory panels, if the commission is abolished by voters in November. That's a good idea, as is his urging for the board to work closely with Fallin's office to find a director she would want to keep after November.
Lane will no doubt bring other good ideas to the table. A former district attorney in Oklahoma County, he is drawn to public service. He also has a strong desire to see that society's vulnerable and neglected are tended to. His dedication, professionalism and fairness will serve the state well for as long as he holds the position.