Fallin names two new members to DHS Commission

Saying she respected many public employees who work at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and who have served on its governing commission, Gov. Mary Fallin yesterday (Wed., September 7) named two new members of the agency’s governing body. 

The two new commissioners are expected to play leading roles in scrutinizing the disposition of a controversial situation that preceded a child’s death, and certain agency governance issues, including adherence to open meetings’ laws. 

Referencing the recent death of five-year-old Serenity Deal in hugely controversial circumstances, the chief executive told reporters, “There are times we need to look at … our system, and see what it is doing. When a system like this doesn’t work, sometimes the consequences can be deadly.” 

Concerning her appointees, former Oklahoma District Attorney Wes Lane and businessman Brad Yarborough, Fallin said she was “looking forward to fresh new insights and perspectives” from the pair. 

In response to CapitolBeatOK’s question about apparent open meetings violations by the DHS Commission, Fallin said, “I expect  all of our state agencies to comply with the law in all respects, and there are questions about whether that occurred. We have to have openness and transparency, especially as it relates to our children who are at most risk.” 

In June, Oklahoma Watchdog reported the open meetings controversy after the commission adjourned a meeting without a public vote. Concerns about adequate posting of meeting agendas also ensued, provoking news coverage state newspapers and, eventually, a chiding of the commissioners from current Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. 

In discussions with Capitol reporters, Fallin was reluctant to criticize Howard Hendrick, director of DHS, over the agency’s handling of Serenity Deal’s placement. The girl was returned to the care of her biological father, and ultimately was killed. 

A criminal investigation is under way, and House Speaker Kris Steele has expressed repeated frustration with the agency’s reports on the little girl’s death. 

Steele praised the two nominees, telling reporters, “I commend the governor for her careful attention to ensuring that Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens are being served in an effective manner.”

Steele asked the commission to take two steps: A performance review of Director Hendrick, and an organizational review of the agency as a whole. 

Fallin told the journalists, concerning Serenity’s death, “It’s obvious things did not go right. It’s important we base decisions on fact, not emotion. In prepared remarks, Fallin said, “The neglect, abuse or loss of any child is unacceptable and it’s important we have a fresh perspective to evaluate how such tragedies can be prevented.”

The governor revealed that her staff gets a large volume of calls on varied issues every day, and her staff has reported ten calls a day on child protective services.

Lane of Oklahoma City is now president of the Burbridge Foundation, a pro-family advocacy group. He worked for 21 years in the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office as an important lieutenant of Robert H. Macy. When Macy retired, Lane then served five and a half years as district attorney, overseeing the juvenile division and handling hundreds of child welfare cases. He won one full term in his own right, then lost to Prater when he sought a second elective term.

Lane now enters into a nine-year term at the Commission, replacing Dr. George Young, whose term expired.

Yarbrough, also from Oklahoma City, operates Pilgrim Land Services, an energy industry staffing firm. During the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Keating, Yarborough was director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which is now part of DHS.

Fallin disclosed that Yarborough will, within a few weeks, be elevated to the chairmanship of the commission.