DSS director Lillian Koller resigns - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

DSS director Lillian Koller resigns

Lillian Koller (Source: DSS) Lillian Koller (Source: DSS)
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/AP) -

The director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services has resigned, a day before senators planned to take up a no-confidence resolution on her leadership.

Gov. Nikki Haley accepted Lillian Koller's resignation Monday morning.

"It has become more and more apparent to me during the past few weeks that my being the State Director is causing a distraction and making it more difficult for DSS to continue the measurable improvements made to the Agency during my tenure that have improved the lives of the citizens we serve," said Koller's resignation letter.

A House resolution calling for Koller's resignation last week cites concerns and complaints raised in the summer and fall of 2012 about leadership and the direction of DSS. That was just a year and a half after Koller started. It was then the Legislative Committee on Children received a disturbing report on child death statistics.

At an October 2013 public hearing of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, a SLED investigation revealed out of 472 death investigation cases, 312 had a DSS case involving abuse or neglect prior to the death. While there have been repeated calls for Koller's resignation, the most recent came last week.

"The failure of leadership is nothing short of a crisis," said Rep. James Smith (D-Richland), "and it is time to stop."

An audit had been requested by the South Carolina Legislative Audit Council. That established the Senate DSS Oversight Committee that has been conducting public hearings and an ongoing investigation of DSS.

Koller testified at just two of the hearings with her last appearance being two weeks ago. She was scheduled to testify a third time this week.

During her last hearing, Koller acknowledged that many workers' caseloads were too large.  The Governor's Office has recommended a corrective action plan. That plan calls for hiring 20 new workers immediately for instant casework relief. Koller's resignation comes a day before senators planned to take up a no-confidence resolution on her leadership.

Her critics say the timing of her announcement is not a coincidence.

Haley, meanwhile, has repeatedly backed Koller, despite calls for her ousting.

"Lillian Koller is a dedicated public servant and child advocate, and a wonderful and loving mother - and I am so grateful for her service to South Carolina," said Haley in a statement released to the media. "Under her leadership, DSS closed a $28 million deficit, moved more than 20,000 South Carolinians from welfare-to-work, and has done wonders to improve our foster care system, placing more South Carolina children in stable, healthy families.

Koller's legislative critics said their efforts have not been politically motivated but part of an attempt to straighten out an agency that veered off course some time ago and has not been performing as well as numbers released by the director seem to indicate.

Koller becomes the fifth cabinet agency head in less than two years to be removed or step down prematurely. Those other departments include the Revenue Department, Employment and Workforce, Transportation Department, and Insurance.

Richland County Sen. Joel Lourie and Kershaw Sen. Vincent Sheheen were both asked about legislative responsibility in confirming appointees. The suggestion was there that lawmakers could have looked harder at Koller's background when similar questions about her leadership surfaced in Hawaii.

Deputy State Director for Economic Services Amber Gillum will serve as interim director until Haley appoints a replacement. Gillum has been deputy state director for DSS since September and previously served as division director at the agency for two years. She also worked in Washington State as a performance analyst in the governor's office and as a Workfirst program coordinator with Washington State Office of Financial Management, among other jobs dating back to 1998.

Gillum graduated with a bachelor's degree from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and has a master's degree in public administration from the same college. She is also a Cascade Executive Management Program graduate from the University of Washington in Seattle.

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