State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, called for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to fire the chief of South Carolina's child-welfare agency during a radio interview 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, under review by a Senate panel investigating claims of mismanagement.
Shealy's call for Koller's removal also comes just days after she and the governor had a public falling out on social media over the Social Services inquiry. In a Facebook post, Haley accused Shealy of spreading a rumor about Koller’s religion.
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 said it chipped in $139,000 to help Shealy defeat Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts, a Haley foe.
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The S.C. Radio Network reported Wednesday that Shealy was on Charleston-based WTMA with Tara Servatius, when the radio host asked her if she thinks Haley should fire Koller.
“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 claims 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 that state law says failure to complete a review is cause for the director’s removal.
But Social Services spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said Tuesday that all counties including the seven Lourie mentioned 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 audit reports, but not all had been posted as of Tuesday.
After her radio interview, Shealy told The State that the information about the county audits, which a Senate staff member collected, was not previously available.
“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, standing by her comments on the radio.
Shealy also criticized Social Services' claim that fewer children are dying after some involvement with Social Services -- 25 percent less than when Koller became the director in 2011, the agency says.
Social Services included children who die in traffic accidents and from terminal illnesses, making it difficult to see whether abuse-related child fatalities where Social Services has been involved are increasing, decreasing or staying the same, critics say.
A better approach to determining abuse-related child deaths is to include only violent, suspicious and unexplained deaths -- those reviewed by state law enforcement, said Laura Hudson, a member of a state panel that review child fatalities, on Tuesday.
Viewed through that narrow scope, child deaths where Social Services has been involved have remained roughly steady at 67 each year from 2011 to 2013 -- down from 70 in 2009 and 76 in 2010.
Unexplained deaths still could skew the numbers, Hudson cautioned, because they may not be abuse related.
“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.