COLUMBIA, SC — Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Thursday a New York attorney experienced in representing management in employment law to be the new director of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.
Cheryl M. Stanton is a shareholder in the New York City law firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart and bested four other candidates to win the job.
“Cheryl is one of the finest employment lawyers in the country,” said Haley, who introduced Stanton at an afternoon State House press conference. “She has worked in the White House as general counsel with the Department of Labor. She’s worked in the private sector. She’s worked with businesses. She knows what businesses need.”
Stanton takes over from John Finan, agency interim director since March 1. A retired Air Force brigadier general, Finan finishes his second interim directorship of the besieged agency.
Haley appointed Finan to take over for former Fort Jackson commanding general Abraham Turner, who unexpectedly resigned the post Feb. 15 – less than two years after he was appointed.
A 2010 law abolished the troubled Employment Security Commission and revamped the agency, moving it to a Cabinet-level position under the governor’s control and renaming it the Department of Employment and Workforce.
The agency was accused of squandering an $800 million surplus and incurring a $1 billion debt to the federal government as the state struggled to pay out jobless benefits as unemployment soared during the Great Recession in 2008-2011.
The state expects to pay back about $2 million to the federal government by the end of 2014 toward that debt.
More recently, the agency has been sharply criticized for cutting one-on-one assistance for people seeking unemployment benefits at 17 rural offices, and for giving raises to 69 DEW employees totaling almost $440,000 as it laid off 55 other workers.
The agency pointed users to its online capabilities for assistance and claims help.
Stanton was asked how much she understood about the agency she will now head.
She said he has done reading about the agency’s reported troubles and has developed some thoughts about where the agency needs to go. Making sure the department runs correctly, and that people get both the benefits and the job training they need will be most important, she said.
“But I certainly need to spend some time with (Finan) as well as with the employees over at the department to figure out exactly what issues need to be addressed and how we’re going to address them,” Stanton said.