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S.C. DSS director adds executive positions

The state Department of Social Services, which is under orders from lawmakers to hire more caseworkers to help abused children, also has added several executive positions under the agency’s new director and now has 18 employees making $100,000 or more a year.

The agency provided the information following a state Freedom of Information Act request.

DSS Director Susan Alford, who was hired by Gov. Nikki Haley last December, told members of the Senate DSS Oversight Subcommittee in late August that she is trying to modernize and reorganize the agency, which she said she found understaffed and spread too thin when she arrived.

“DSS is an agency that is recovering from a decade of budget cuts and other issues regarding its organizational structure,” she explained then. “We suffer not only from a lack of resources in the department but we also have spread our functions and responsibilities across the department to the degree that it has really interfered with good accountability.”

Alford has hired a number of executives since taking office, some into new positions and some into vacant positions or modified positions. The agency employs about 3,800 workers.

The new executives include:

▪ Chief of Staff Joan Meacham – Although the position is new, she replaces Holly Pisarik, who Haley brought in last year temporarily to serve as a special assistant to the director. Meacham previously worked as a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Homes Service-Myrtle Beach Real Estate. Prior to her real estate job, Meacham had been in state government for almost three decades with the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice. She retired as the state director of probation, parole and pardon Services. Her annual salary is $114,005.

▪ Deputy State Director of Administrative Services Barbara Derrick – She previously worked as deputy director of administration for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and as deputy director of administration at the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation before that. Her annual salary at the new position is $129,682.

▪ Ombudsman Pam Bryant – She previously worked as the director of public information with Clemson University Youth Learning Institute, where Alford previously worked. Her salary is $95,000.

▪ Interim Deputy State Director of Child Welfare Taron Davis – The position formerly was titled deputy state director of human services. Davis previously worked as a DSS attorney. Davis’ current salary is $109,222 but an agency spokeswoman said that is because of an adjustment due to her interim appointment. Her base salary, she said, is lower than $100,000.

▪ Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs Karen Luchka Wingo – She previously worked as a partner with Fisher & Phillips LLP, a national business law firm. Her annual salary is $100,000.

▪ Director of Adult Advocacy Jessica Hanak-Coulter – She previously worked as Deputy Director of Human Services at DSS. Her annual salary is $100,000.

The agency now has 18 staff earning $100,000 or more a year, according to DSS and the state’s salary database. In addition to those above, they are: Anita Khetpal, a child psychiatrist, and Herbert Spencer, psychiatrist, both paid on an hourly basis; Anthony Catone, general counsel, $135,000; Amber Gillum, deputy director economic services, $121,890; Katie Morgan, child support services director, $119,610; David Lawson, director of information technology, $115,963; Stephen McCauley, information security director, $114,000; Funneaser Jacobs, director of human resources, $113,642; William Bray, director of finance, $109,134; Jose Encarnacion, Information Technology Manager Il, $106,012; Gwendolyn Babb, attorney, $100,628; and J. Daniel Edens, procurement director, $100,000.

Alford’s annual salary is $159,130.

After a series of legislative hearings and a stinging audit last year – prior to Alford’s arrival – concerning the agency’s handling of child abuse and neglect cases, lawmakers provided more money so DSS could hire hundreds of new caseworkers and staff to lower caseloads.

Lawmakers authorized the hiring of 177 more staff in the current budget year and DSS has asked for $32.6 million in next year’s budget, including money to hire 157 additional staff. Wingo said 146 of the 177 positions have been filled.

The agency currently operates on a budget of $692 million, but only about $133 million of that comes from the state’s General Fund, according to legislative budget records. Most of the agency’s budget comes from the federal government.

Lawmakers have registered concerns in the past about the hiring of supervisors along with caseworkers because they want the focus to be on lowering caseloads. Some caseworkers still handle 50 or more children each and a handful handle 100 or more. The agency has set a goal of no more than 24 children per worker.

State Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, chairman of the Senate Oversight Subcommittee, said the panel will address the salary issue at its next meeting.

“The testimony that we have received is that we need more caseworkers on the front lines to reduce caseloads,” he said. “While it appears that the agency is making progress and 56 substandard day cares have recently been closed, this new management salary information is troubling in view of the agency’s most recent budget request.

“Again, we will get to the bottom of it.”

However, state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, a member of the oversight panel, said legislators need to give Alford time to manage the agency. He said it is easy to criticize any agency director for adding executive positions.

“What I am most concerned with is results,” he said. “If she was coming in and making administrative requests but not adding caseworkers, I think all of us would be blowing a gasket right now. But the bulk of her requests, the significant majority of her requests, the money is going to add caseworkers and bring down caseloads.

“If there are some layers of management that are missing to help the agency run more efficiently, I think we owe her that consideration.”

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, who also sits on the subcommittee, said lawmakers are hoping Alford can better organize the agency.

“We have to give her that chance to do what she thinks is the best thing,” she said. “I’m not going to question what she’s done there until I see the outcome. We need more caseworkers. I don’t think we need more supervisors.”

Shealy said the agency has struggled with keeping caseworkers. The agency’s turnover rate last year was 39 percent, which has dropped this year.

“We need to be working on that harder than making new positions,” she said. “I don’t want to tell her how to run the agency, because I’m not there on a day to day basis. But what I would say is, we need to look more at boots on the ground instead of people in supervisory positions.”

Alford has reorganized the child welfare division within the agency. Previously, Hanak-Coulter served as deputy director of human services and oversaw both child welfare and adult protective services. She now serves as the director of a new adult advocacy division. The title of deputy director of human services has changed to deputy director of child welfare. Davis oversees a reorganized child welfare division under which regional leaders now report as well as officials overseeing child welfare operations and compliance. The regional leaders will now supervise county DSS directors.

“That’s going to create a much higher level of accountability,” Alford told senators concerning the child welfare reorganization.

Alford said she wants to raise the attention on vulnerable adults, which she said previously had become “marginalized” at the agency.

She said Derrick will be responsible for finance, procurement, human resources and information technology services in the agency. Previously, she said, the managers of those services reported directly to the agency’s director.

Alford also wants to make sure caseworkers and other employees are working on the jobs they were hired to do, she said. Because of a lack of resources in the past, caseworkers were working on adult protection and licensing cases in addition to child welfare cases.

“What I’m trying to say is, the folks who are hired to do certain functions are doing many other functions,” she told senators. “And until we can get that stabilized and get enough staff in place – to where folks are doing the jobs they were asked to do and provide the kind of supervision they were asked to do – we won’t be able to become the agency that we need to be.”

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