In a tumultuous week for DHS, revised Pinnacle Plan unveiled

In the midst of a tumultuous week for governance at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, a revised version of the transformational “Pinnacle Plan” has been released. 

Circulation of the new draft (dated June 1) came just 48 hours after Human Services Commission Chairman Brad Yarborough – facing a no-confidence vote pressed by at least three of the commission members – resigned from the top job, while agreeing to stay on the panel. 

Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma covered Tuesday’s “contentious meeting” and has the details here. 

The revised Pinnacle Plan has been sent to the three “co-Neutrals,” out-of-state analysts and decision-makers empowered by litigation settled earlier this year. The work of the co-Neutrals, as result of litigation administered by the federal courts, is not subject to Oklahoma’s open meeting and open record provisions

The new rendition of the state’s comprehensive reform plan for DHS is the result of several revisions crafted since March 30. The new version is characterized in a release from DHS as “an outline of improvements the [state] DHS will make in targeted areas of the state’s Child Welfare System. It will serve as a guideline for the agency to follow as it works to improve the care of Oklahoma’s foster children.

“The plan was revised after feedback from the plaintiffs, co-neutrals, legislators, Governor’s staff, OKDHS Commission members, and OKDHS staff. The plan contains minor revisions that ensure clarity of the goals and initiatives. Some changes were made to move initiatives forward in Years One and Two, such as ensuring children under two are not placed in shelters and the supervisor training/mentoring program is developed earlier.
“During the next 45 days, the plaintiffs and co-neutrals will once again review the document and the co-neutrals will either endorse or not endorse the Pinnacle Plan. If endorsed, OKDHS will finalize the baselines and metrics over the next several months. If not endorsed, the co-neutrals can modify the plan to meet their expectations as outlined in the Settlement Agreement. During the approval process, OKDHS and the co-neutrals will begin the work of establishing baselines and targets along with the data experts.”

Deborah G. Smith, Director of the OKDHS Children and Family Services Division said, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “We hope this becomes the final version.  We have made some minor adjustments, and believe this plan will provide a valuable outline with which we can operate in the years to come. We are ready for an approved plan so we can begin implementation.”

Chairman Yarborough disclosed his resignation from the top job on Tuesday (June 12). He had sought to continue drawing on the expertise of two former commissioners (Steven Dow and Anne Roberts) for working panels, but that idea now appears inoperative. 

Yarborough said he had to stop being chairman because “an excessive investment of time. It has been a privilege to serve as Chairman these past eight months. I accepted at a time when the DHS faced many significant challenges. The role has been difficult and demanding. I’m pleased that, with the help of other Commissioners, agency staff, the [attorney general], Legislature and Governor, the DHS has turned a critical corner. Recent achievements have, by most accounts, been historic. Serving as the Chair has been satisfying and I hope that it has benefitted our state.
“The duties as Chairman have required an excessive investment of time. But, because of the critical and worthy nature of the assignment, the sacrifice was merited. However, this level of involvement is unsustainable. Business opportunities and personal priorities now require more attention. To adequately accommodate, it’s necessary to resign as Chairman,” he said.

Governor Mary Fallin first appointed Yarbrough on Sept. 8, 2011.  On the same date, she appointed former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, who is now reportedly under consideration for the chairmanship. Lane and Yarborough, conservative Republicans, had worked closely with Dow and Roberts, liberal Democrats and appointees of former Governor Brad Henry.

Several of the board majority’s steps toward accountability and better performance have been opposed by other Henry-era commissioners. Dow and others have said the commission structure is outdated and not adaptive to contemporary needs of DHS. 

As a result of many factors – legislative enactment, judicial scrutiny, litigation, and new legislation, the governance structure for the agency is on the verge of comprehensive transformation, including the role of the governing commission.

The Legislature boosted DHS funding by $50 million this spring; half of that increase is to finance early stages of the Pinnacle Plan. 

If voters agree in November, the commission will be abolished and the governor empowered to name top employees at the agency. Rudy reports this week’s contentious meeting “will certainly be an example used by those who want the reforms as a reason for why they are needed.” 

It is quite conceivable that whomever is named to succeed Yarborough will be the last Human Services Commission Chairman. Meanwhile, commissioners (and the governor) were unsatisfied after a first round look at potential candidates to replace DHS Director Howard Hendrick, and beginning a broader national search for additional candidates.