Child-welfare mismanagement claims

GOP senator joins calls for Haley to fire SC Social Services chief

jself@thestate.comApril 23, 2014 

— State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, called on Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to fire the chief of South Carolina’s child-welfare agency Wednesday.

Shealy is the third senator – but the first Republican – to call for director Lillian Koller’s removal from the state Department of Social Services. A state Senate panel that includes Shealy is investigating claims of mismanagement at that agency, which reports to Haley.

Shealy’s call for Koller’s removal comes just days after the two Republicans, both from Lexington, had a public falling out on social media over the Social Services inquiry. In that Facebook exchange, Haley accused Shealy of spreading a false rumor about Koller’s religion. Shealy denied that allegation.

Shealy, who says she still supports Haley, was elected to the Senate in 2012 as a petition candidate with help from the pro-Haley Movement Fund, which chipped in $139,000 to help Shealy defeat Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts, a Haley foe.

Shealy was on Charleston-based WTMA with Tara Servatius on Wednesday, when the radio host asked her if she thinks Haley should fire Koller, the S.C. Radio Network reported.

“I believe that maybe we should go ahead and do that,” Shealy said, joining state Sens. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s Democratic challenger in November, and Joel Lourie, D-Richland, in calling for Haley to fire her cabinet director.

In the interview, Shealy echoed allegations against Social Services that Lourie made Tuesday, including that the agency has failed to complete audits of some of its county offices in the last five years, as required by law. Lourie noted state law says failure to complete a review is cause for the director’s removal.

Social Services spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said Tuesday all counties have completed reviews within five years except one, which has a review scheduled for next month, in time to meet its deadline. Matheus said the agency’s website lists the latest county audits, but not all had been posted as of Tuesday.

After the radio interview, Shealy told The State that information about the county audits, which a Senate staff member collected, was not available previously.

“Why wasn’t that information readily available to us? What I would question here is why, every time we question something, suddenly things appear?” she said.

Shealy also criticized Social Services’ claim that 25 percent fewer children are dying after some involvement with the agency since Koller became director in 2011. Social Services includes children who die in traffic accidents and from terminal illnesses in its count of fatalities, making it difficult to determine whether abuse-related deaths are increasing, decreasing or staying the same, critics say.

“This is not a witch hunt for me,” Shealy said on the radio. “I care about children. I care about families. I’m not out after anybody. I just think somebody’s got to answer for the problems we have here.”

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Self at (803)771-8658.

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