Local and State News

DSS Director Resigns

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Former DSS Director Lillian Koller testifies in front of South Carolina legislators at a hearing in 2013. File photo

Embattled Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller resigned Monday, capping months of criticism of her handling of the agency.

Koller wrote in a letter to Gov. Nikki Haley, “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.”

Amber Gillum, a deputy director, will lead the agency in the interim.

Koller had been under fire for her focus on reducing the number of children in foster care at the agency, a policy some say contributed to the deaths of children who’d come into contact with DSS. Caseloads at the agency are high, and DSS’ own internal documents show consistent failure to contact at-risk children within 24 hours of opening a case on them, as required by federal law. Free Times first detailed DSS’s failing in a major story last October, and has continued to document the agency’s high-profile troubles and Koller’s testimony before legislators looking into her agency’s failings.

For months, Democrats have been calling for Koller to be fired, as did Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy, who serves on a committee tasked with DSS oversight; last week, Republican Sen. Pro Tem John Courson added his voice to Shealy’s on the GOP side. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott joined the chorus, too, cutting a recent campaign ad for Haley’s gubernatorial challenger, Vincent Sheheen, in which he criticized Haley’s handling of DSS.

Haley accepted the resignation, saying in a statement, “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.” 

Though Koller’s critics welcomed the resignation, they said it doesn’t fix the agency’s problems.

“I don’t believe that everything that was wrong at the Department of Social Services was Director Koller’s fault,” said Shealy, according to The State.

“Director Koller’s resignation was long overdue, and it changes very little,” said Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford in a statement. “Gov. Haley’s insistence on standing by her failed agency head kept hundreds of South Carolina children at risk of abuse, neglect, and even death. … There is still much work left to do to assure the people of South Carolina that the Department of Social Services is under control and functional. Now the real work begins.” 

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