DSS chief Lillian Koller resigns, says her leadership has become a "distraction"

Posted by JAMIE SELF on June 2, 2014 

Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller testifies for the second time at a Senate panel charged with investigating the agency's role in cases where children died.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

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— Lillian Koller, Director of S.C. Department of Social Services, has resigned from her post leading the state's child-welfare agency, Gov. Nikki Haley's office announced Monday.

Amber Gillum, Deputy State Director for Economic Services, will serve as interim director until Haley makes a permanent appointment to the Cabinet post.

Koller's resignation follows several months of hearings by a panel of senators investigating claims that the agency missed abuse cases where children involved in Social Services later died. Reports of high worker case loads also have drawn rebuke.

Koller was expected to testify a third time before the Senate panel this Wednesday, but no longer will, said Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, the panel's chairman. No one else from the agency will appear in her place, he added.

Young had asked Koller to appear to discuss new data the panel received. The statistics showed some caseworkers with more than 40 cases and more than 90 children they were responsible for seeing in a single month.

"That's very troubling," said Young, who has not called for Koller's dismissal, waiting to give his recommendations in a report later this year.

"Now that (Koller) resigned, that does not mean our subcommittee doesn't have questions about the data," he said.

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In her resignation letter, effective immediately, Koller did not concede any wrongdoing. Instead, she said she felt her employment as state director was becoming a “distraction.”

“It has become more and more apparent to me during the past few weeks that my being the State Director is causing a distraction and making it more difficult for DSS to continue the measurable improvements made to the Agency during my tenure that have improved the lives of the citizens we serve,” Koller wrote in her resignation letter to Haley.

Haley, who has supported Koller, continued to defend her in a statement she released after the news:

"Under (Koller’s) leadership, DSS closed a $28 million deficit, moved more than 20,000 South Carolinians from welfare-to-work, and has done wonders to improve our foster care system, placing more South Carolina children in stable, healthy families," Haley said in a statement released by her office.

"Today, as she has every day since coming to South Carolina, Lillian has put the well-being of the children of our state above her own,” Haley continued. “We have been lucky to have her, and I will continue to be proud of Lillian, the work she's done at DSS, and most of all, that I can call her my friend.”

Two state senators among the first to call for Koller's removal said Monday that her stepping down is a good start, but not the only change that Social Services needs.

“I don't believe that everything that was wrong at the Department of Social Services was Director Koller’s fault, said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and the member of a Senate panel investigating the agency.

“There has been a lot of tension, a lot of distraction. This will ease a lot of that,” Shealy said, adding that Social Services has had problems for years that did not improve under Koller's leadership.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, called Koller's resignation "long overdue," and said he hopes the interim leadership will bring clarity to how the agency is running.

"Bring us the facts however bad they may be," Lourie said in a conference call with media Monday.

Both Shealy and Lourie said they feel as though accurate statistics about the agency's management have not been forthcoming.

"We've been asking questions and getting different answers every time," Shealy said. "I hope that people feel like they can be honest and not threatened. I hope they can come forward and do things that will make the agency better."

Gillum will step into her new role as interim director while keeping her salary of $119,500.

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