OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A retired Tennessee health official has agreed to take over the embattled Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the agency announced Monday.
Edward Lake accepted the post that he was offered Wednesday following a closed-door meeting with the Commission on Human Services, which oversees DHS.
Lake was traveling Monday and not available for comment, DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said. The 64-year-old will take over Nov. 1 with an annual salary of $185,000.
“I am very pleased Mr. Lake has accepted the offer to become the permanent director of OKDHS,” interim director Preston Doerflinger said in a news release.
Doerflinger, who has been serving as interim director since March, said he will return to his post as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Lake succeeds Howard Hendrick, who retired in March after 14 years as head of the agency that has come under fire following the deaths of several children who were in state custody.
DHS also recently settled a federal class-action lawsuit over alleged maltreatment of children in state care. The deal calls for the state to overhaul the way the agency cares for foster children. The so-called Pinnacle Plan, which will be implemented over the next five years, is expected to cost $153 million.
“Ed Lake is the right man at the right time,” Commission Chairman Wes Lane said. “He has both the credentials and the credibility to not only build upon the great work already being done at DHS, but to institute and further those reforms necessary to restore the public’s trust in this critically important agency.”
Oklahoma voters also will decide in November whether to abolish the Commission on Human Services and shift oversight and power to the governor’s office, which would be responsible for appointing the agency’s director with the consent of the Senate.
Lane said last week that Lake has met with Gov. Mary Fallin, who supports hiring him as head of the agency.
“No matter what happens in November, Ed Lake will have her support,” Lane said. “If the commission goes away, Ed Lake will remain.”
Lake, of Hendersonville, Tenn., worked at the Tennessee Department of Human Services from 1973 until retiring in 2011 as deputy director. He worked in Tennessee as a child welfare caseworker, a food stamp office supervisor and as both a county and regional director in social services.