DHS change passes House

House

approves

DHS change

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Many questioned the timing of legislation that passed the state House Thursday stripping away the authority of the governor to select the executive director of the Department of Human Services.

The bill, which passed 96-26, would establish a nine-person policy-making board that would recommend three people from which the governor could select the executive director of the Department of Human Services. The executive director would serve a six-year term, but could be removed by the nine-person board “for good cause.”

While the change in the selection of the executive director of Human Services would not go into effect until 2004 after the next statewide elections, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said he opposed the bill.

“I believe it is an appropriate thing to have the governor to appoint the agency heads and all them to do their job,” Musgrove said during an interview with reporters in his Capitol office Thursday. After a long pause, he added, “I hope we are not getting into a turf war where the Legislature believes it ought to run the agencies.”

During the nearly one hour of debate of the bill on the House floor, questions by opponents of the legislation centered around timing. The legislation came after a bitter confrontation between House Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, and Human Services Executive Director Janice Broom Brooks this past summer.

Moody and Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Bunky Huggins, R-Greenwood, held hearings to investigate Brooks’ termination of 20 people who worked at her will and pleasure in the 3,500-person agency. Huggins and Moody even took the unusual step of subpoenaing people in the agency.

But Moody said the bill to change the selection process of the executive director did not have anything to do with the hearings.

“This is not a witch hunt,” Moody said from the House floor. “It is not pointing fingers at anybody.”

Moody said if he was intent on seeking revenge against Brooks he would had made the section of the bill requiring the executive director to be selected from the recommendations of the policy-making board effective upon passage.

Moody said he made a mistake in 1991 when he supported legislation to eliminate a board and give the governor the sole authority to select the executive director of the massive agency. The agency administers the state’s welfare program, other programs for the poor and various programs designed to support abused and neglected children.

Since the change eliminating the board in 1991, Moody said the massive agency has had six executive directors who brought in their own people for key positions. He said continuity has been lacking in the agency. Moody said the agency would be set up much like the human services departments are operated in other states, such as Maryland and Texas.

In Mississippi, some agencies answer directly to the governor while others are controlled by boards of directors who select the executive director. Moody said during the years he believes those that have boards of directors operate more smoothly.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, asked Moody, who has served as chairman of Public Health for parts of three terms, why he did not attempt to change the selection process during the Fordice administration when there were three executive directors who neglected to pull down “millions in federal funds” available to the state. Moody said he complained that the available federal money was not utilized.

Rep. Philip West, D-Natchez, asked Moody if he was aware that there was a perception the selection process for the executive director of the agency is being changed because Brooks is black. Moody said he resented the implication and said he worked well with black agency heads.

Most of those voting against the bill Wednesday were African-American members.

Under the bill, the governor would appoint six members of the policy-making board and the lieutenant governor would select three. The bill now goes to the Senate where support for the measure appears strong.