The state Department of Health and Environmental Control board will meet Monday to discuss a replacement for departing chief Catherine Templeton, who resigned Thursday and is said to be interested in seeking political office.
None of the department’s board members returned telephone calls Friday to The State newspaper, but the agenda for Monday’s meeting indicates the eight-member board will discuss an interim director. It was not known what the timetable is for picking a permanent DHEC director.
Board member Clarence Batts, in a brief interview with the newspaper Thursday, said he and his colleagues have at times talked with Templeton about having “someone ready to step into her spot when she moved on.”
He said he didn’t know if that would translate to a quick hiring decision. Templeton has not been available for interviews since she resigned Thursday. Her last day is Monday.
Possible candidates for the DHEC post include Templeton’s top two advisors: health division chief Jamie Shuster and environmental division chief Elizabeth Dieck. Shuster declined comment Thursday and Dieck has been unavailable. One name also making the rounds Friday was Eleanor Kitzman, the former state insurance director. She was unavailable.
Those familiar with DHEC said they hope the board carefully screens candidates for the job overseeing public health and environmental protection, which includes deciding whether to issue pollution permits to industry. The DHEC director runs one of largest agencies in South Carolina, a 3,500-employee department with offices across the state.
Lowcountry conservationist Dana Beach said he’s worried the arch-conservative DHEC board will choose a conservative ideologue for the permanent job.
“The fear is that they will end up with somebody who is ideologically motivated,” Beach said. “We need somebody who can run a huge agency that is complicated, with different missions, a big budget and lots of people.”
Templeton, despite some missteps, proved popular with both the business community and some conservationists, including Beach. The personable Mount Pleasant lawyer was less motivated by agenda-driven politics than some environmentalists said they originally expected. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who said she wanted DHEC to be more business-friendly when she first ran in 2010, chose the DHEC board. The board then hired the agency director.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, one of Templeton’s critics, said running DHEC is difficult and takes a seasoned person. The Columbia Democrat sat on a Senate committee three years ago that screened Templeton for the job.
“My preference would be someone with a history of health and science experience as well as someone who has management skills, has managed large groups of people,” Lourie said.
Templeton, who grew up in Irmo, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to run against Republican Congressman Mark Sanford for his Lowcountry seat.
She said she never wanted to make a career out of working at DHEC, and from the reaction of agency board members Thursday, Templeton was not forced out. She received a standing ovation from the board that hired her and left the meeting quickly.