State Sen. Vincent Sheheen again Tuesday called on Gov. Nikki Haley to fire her director of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services, citing last week’s death of a 5-month-old baby who the agency was notified about last month as being in possible danger but couldn’t find.
(Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced late Tuesday that the baby’s mother, Jennifer Coles, 28, has been arrested in connection with that death.)
Democrat Sheheen of Camden, who lost the 2010 governor’s race by 4. 5 percentage points and will face Republican Haley again in November, said the governor immediately should fire Lillian Koller, repeating a statement he made six weeks ago.
“Haley’s DSS has refused to do its job. The children of this state deserve better,” Sheheen said at Democratic Party headquarters. “They need a change in the agency now.”
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Haley of Lexington continues to stand behind Koller.
The governor’s campaign spokesman said it is shameful her Democratic opponent is politicizing a child’s death.
Koller has been under fire for months.
A bipartisan Senate subcommittee has been investigating alleged problems at the agency. Two members of the panel – one Democrat and one Republican – also have called for Koller’s ouster.
The issue also is why Greenville attorney Tom Ervin, a former judge and House member, said he entered the gubernatorial race. Ervin initially filed to run in the GOP primary in June but withdrew earlier this month to instead be a petition candidate in November.
Koller testified earlier this month in front of senators and declined to step down, saying she thinks she has more work to accomplish. Haley repeatedly has said she is proud of the changes Koller has made at the Cabinet agency, which reports to the governor.
Sheheen’s news conference followed media reports that a medical official in Richland County notified Social Services on March 3 that a baby with a heart issue wasn’t receiving proper medical care. The child died last Tuesday.
Agency officials say an investigation was opened March 4, but the family could not be located despite repeated attempts. Law enforcement and Social Services worked together to eventually find the family in another county Friday, according to the agency.
Koller said Tuesday that Social Services employees work hard daily to protect thousands of children.
“There are a small number of tragic cases in which their best efforts do not succeed, as in this case where we could not locate Baby Webb and his apparently transient family, after repeated attempts,” she said. “We will always be looking for ways to improve performance in the department until we reach a day when no children in South Carolina are neglected or abused.”