DCS commissioner resigns amid scrutiny of deaths

DCS commissioner resigns amid scrutiny of deaths (Image 1)

Tennessee Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kate O'Day suddenly resigned Tuesday morning amid numerous questions from lawmakers and the media about how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.

“She was concerned that she had become more of a focus than the children the department serves,” Governor Bill Haslam said in a statement released to the media.  

Just a week ago, the Republican governor was asked by Nashville's News 2 if Commissioner O'Day had his full support.

Mr. Haslam replied, “Commissioner O'Day is like anyone else in our administration. At the end of the day, we have a job to do and she knows that and understands that. We know that we will do better we are protecting the interests of children all over Tennessee.”

In his statement Tuesday, Haslam said that O'Day “has done a lot of good work in identifying longstanding problems that have hampered the department, and we will build on those efforts as we move forward.”

Nashville Democrat Rep. Sherry Jones has long dealt with DCS issues and took a much different view than the Republican governor about O'Day's departure.

“She was in over her head from the beginning,” Rep. Jones told Nashville's News 2 Tuesday morning. “Things have gotten a lot worse under her tenure, and she was not someone who took case files home with her like the previous DCS commissioner [Viola Miller].”

O'Day's resignation comes just one day before she was scheduled to appear before a state senate committee looking into DCS issues.

The governor has named Commissioner Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to serve as interim commissioner of DCS.

Henry plans to be at the Senate Health and Welfare committee hearing which is expected to include top representatives of DCS, but not now former Commissioner O'Day.

Jim Henry has a long history of service at the state government level to go along with his two jobs now.

In the 1980s he was the leader of the then-minority of House Republicans.

In 2002, he ran unsuccessfully for governor losing to eventual Republican nominee Van Hilleary in the primary.

Henry's office indicated that he met this afternoon with former Commissioner O'Day who was not without her supporters on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.

“I hate to see her go,” said Rep. Mark White of Memphis who said O'Day was a “good friend.”

“There are 5,000 employees in DCS,” the lawmaker said. “Trying to keep everyone together dealing with homes broken and family dysfunction is a tough, tough job.”

DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 150 children who died after the state launched abuse or neglect investigations.

Four of the requested DCS case files with names of children blacked out were released Tuesday.

Around 200 more have been requested.

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