DHS named a new director. After nine months of looking for a replacement, the troubled state agency announces Ed Lake will be its new leader. He is scheduled to start work on November 1.
Ed Lake came out of retirement from DHS in Tennessee to accept one of the most highly scrutinized jobs in Oklahoma. Lake will be making $185,000, more than the governor, to turn around an agency that has been in the spotlight in recent years for all the wrong reasons.
The new director will walk into a state agency plagued with negative publicity from child deaths, lawsuits, and foster care.
"Any agency that has a child welfare division is going to deal with issues with child welfare, foster care, and with the occasional tragedies," OKDHS Spokesperson Sheree Powell said.
Lake has been in a similar situation before. He spent 38 years with the DHS system in Tennessee, nearly a third of that time serving as Deputy Commissioner for the agency. He started out as a front line case worker and worked his way on up to running the agency on a day to day basis.
In a YouTube video, Lake can be viewed making several jokes with his employees at a DHS supervisor academy in Tennessee, but OKDHS points to his leadership strengths during a more serious situation when a lawsuit was filed against Tennessee DHS that closely resembles a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of children in Oklahoma.
Powell describes how the state hopes that experience will help Oklahoma.
"He was very involved in organizational change within Tennessee DHS and has been through legislative reforms there," Powell said.
Just as in Tennessee, the Oklahoma lawsuit has been settled with a specific plan for improvements in the system. Lake is credited with restructuring the Tennessee agency before his retirement.
"He brings a wealth of experience so he will really be able to help lead us in the changes and reforms that we are making," Powelll said.
Powell tell us Lake will have to be here for six years before eligible for retirement. Lake declined to give us an interview until his official start date of November 1.
Governor Mary Fallin expressed her approval of the hire. In November, voters will consider State Question 765. If approved, the governor would have authority to hire and fire the DHS director but says she has no plans to replace Lake.