NORMAN — Former regional director could take the helm
The Human Services Commission voted Wednesday to offer Edward Lake the position of Department of Human Services director. The commission had a special meeting to interview Lake in executive session and afterward voted to offer him the position.
If he accepts the offer, Lake will replace Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, who currently serves as the interim DHS director.
The commission has been conducting a nationwide search since March to replace former Director Howard Hendrick, who retired after serving nearly 14 years in the position.
Hendrick’s last years at the helm of DHS have been rocky ones, starting with the death of 2-year-old Kelsey Smith-Briggs on Oct. 11, 2005, from abuse. A class action lawsuit styled as D.G. vs. Yarbrough filed in February 2008 on behalf of nine children who were abused while on the department’s watch further brought agency deficiencies into the public light. The tragic death of 5-year-old Serenity Deal on Sept. 15, 2011, further brought the agency under fire.
Bipartisan reform efforts have resulted in a proposed change. That change, in the form of State Question 765, will come before voters Nov. 6.
If passed, SQ 765 will eliminate the commission and remove the DHS and its director from the state’s constitution, allowing the legislature to create and direct the administration of a new department to provide for public welfare. The governor would then appoint the new director.
However, the possible hiring of Lake is not in contradiction with that scenario. Should the measure pass, the new director would retain the position.
“I can’t speak for the governor, but I think the whole point is to get Preston Doerflinger out of there so he can focus on finance,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “He’s done a wonderful job as interim, but it was meant to be a temporary assignment. It’s my understanding that Mr. Lake also met with Gov. Fallin.
“I think the commission has done something unprecedented in bringing the governor in as much as possible so she could have input into the process. From all indications, they’ve kept her in the loop the entire time.”
Treat authored the bill that became SQ 765. Treat said he is at ease with the hiring process.
Lake's salary will be $185,000 per year, along with a one-time $5,000 signing bonus per Merit Protection Commission rules, according to information released by the commission Wednesday.
Lake must accept the offer by 5 p.m. Monday. If he accepts, his start date as director will be Nov. 1.
Lake is a retired deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Human Services. He told the commission he wanted to take some time to consider the offer and discuss it with his family before making a final decision.
Lake has experience working at almost every level of the Tennessee DHS from 1973 to 2011. He served as a child welfare caseworker, food stamp office supervisor, county director and regional director in social services.
He served as deputy commissioner of TDHS from 1992 until 1996 and as assistant commissioner from 1996 through 2003, when he was again named as deputy commissioner until his retirement in 2011.