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Oklahoma DHS Director Bids Farewell

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

The director of the highly-criticized state agency, the Department of Human Services, gives his parting words, "I've done my best, ya know, I'm at peace with that and so it's time to go take on another chapter."

Howard Hendrick's last day was today, the same day a settlement for the children's rights lawsuit is set to be approved. The director sat down for his last interview with News 9's Lisa Monahan to discuss his tenure with the agency charged with protecting Oklahoma's most vulnerable.

High profile child deaths in abuse and neglect cases and the lawsuits following those tragedies created the public outcry. Most were asking for reform of the state agency and some calling for the DHS director's job.

Still, Howard Hendrick says the criticism has nothing to do with his retirement. "There's no way anybody could be fully prepared for his job."

A job, that in the wake of several high profile child death cases, forced DHS Director Hendrick to answer his critics.

We asked "Do you personally feel responsible for children dying in the system?"

Hendrick replied, "I think everybody feels some sense of obligation to try to analyze and figure out what we can do and I think we have done that."

Still the tragedies, whether he likes it or not, will be a part of the legacy Hendrick leaves behind after his 14 years as the head of DHS.

Hendrick said," Did I go out and see those cases? No, but I read about them and I saw a lot of the details after the fact. So, I mean, you wince, It's not a good feeling, not something I want to experience again."

Instead, Hendrick touts progress made in setting a record number for adoptions and child support collections during the down economic times.

Critics claim those improvements are not enough.

We asked, "How did you justify keeping your job until now?"

Hendrick replied, "You can listen to all of the criticism or you can listen to all the accolades and, ya know, I think I tried not to listen to too much of the extremes either way."

The director explains no one pressured him to resign and his decision has nothing to do with current legislative reform calling for an overhaul of DHS though back in September Hendrick told News 9 he had no plans to leave the agency, but by November he began openly discussing his retirement.

During that time gap is also when lawmakers created the task force to reform DHS.

We questioned the change. "Did they ask you to step down?"

Hendrick immediately replied, "No."

We asked more, "Did they ask for your retirement?"

Hendrick again replied, "No, No."

In light of the sudden turn of events, News 9 obtained the director's last six months of emails including meetings and exchanges between lawmakers and commission members.

Although nothing specifically spells out why Hendrick would leave, an email shows he began notifying colleagues months before publicly announcing his retirement.

We also discovered resignation letters from employees applauding Hendrick's leadership and others who criticize his lack of willingness to hear case workers complaints.

Hendrick said, "Sometimes, none of us listens as well as we should. Me, too. We should all try to listen a little better."

In our last question we asked the director, "Do you have any regrets?" to which he replied "Oh, I try not to live in the past, I try to look toward the future."

Hendrick also said he could have retired a year ago, but wanted to see the children's rights lawsuit all the way through.

In retirement, the state will pay Hendrick $77,000 a year as part of his pension. A national search is underway to fill Hendrick's position.

Hendrick was making $164,000 at the time of his retirement.

The salary range for the new director is $155,000 to $185,000. 

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