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SCDHEC Gets New Director … Finally

Secretive process results in board of Palmetto State’s largest agency choosing one of its own to lead …

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The rudderless South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) has a new leader … finally.

With public pressure mounting after more than seventeen months without a director, the agency’s superfluous board has decided to give the job to one of its own – Rick Toomey.

Actually, it sounds like Toomey’s selection was what the board had in mind all along when it “reopened” its search to replace former director Catherine Heigel several weeks ago.  Heigel announced her resignation from SCDHEC in July of 2017.  Since her departure, the agency has been run by acting director David Wilson – its former legislative affairs leader.

News of Toomey’s selection as director designate was first reported by Tom Barton and Sammy Fretwell of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – who lamented the agency’s secrecy during the lengthy selection process.

“The agency never gave a list of finalists for the job before picking its next director,” Barton and Fretwell noted.  “The agency also blacked out a log sheet of visitors to the agency so The State could not see who interviewed for the job last September.”

Shady?  Absolutely …

We have nothing against Toomey – a former hospital system executive – but such cloak-and-dagger moves do not inspire much in the way of confidence.

The Greenville native’s ascension to the $178,126 a year job (not counting benefits) must be approved by governor Henry McMaster – who appoints the entire SCDHEC governing board.

Wait … why not dispense with the board and have McMaster appoint SCDHEC’s director himself? 

Answer: Because that would make too much sense.  And this is South Carolina.  Where nothing makes sense.  The goal in the Palmetto State, apparently, is to keep accountability as splintered as possible.

That way when disaster strikes, no one is to blame … 

Assuming McMaster signs off on the appointment, Toomey’s nomination would also have to receive an affirmative vote from the South Carolina Senate.

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(DOMINION ENERGY)

South Carolina has nearly a dozen different bureaucracies tasked with various health and environmental functions – with SCDHEC representing the largest of those bureaucracies (employing an estimated work force of 3,000 employees).

This news outlet has argued for years that these multiple health and environmental agencies should be streamlined into two standalone agencies – one managing health-related tasks and the other handling environmental issues.

In fact, more than a decade ago our founding editor proposed the following reforms as part of his groundbreaking “95 Theses,” a bid to fundamentally overhaul state government.

From that treatise …

7) A South Carolina Department of Public Health and Wellness shall be established incorporating all current health-related agencies and boards under three divisions – finance, health services and human services. The department director shall be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.

8 ) A South Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources shall be created incorporating all current environmental, conservation and natural resource functions of state government. The department director shall be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.

Unfortunately, state leaders have continued dumping more money into the same failed government structure – with predictable results.

Heigel did well during her tenure at SCDHEC – keeping its budget growth in check and earning generally positive marks from the majority of her constituencies.  During her final budget cycle, the agency increased spending by only 1.8 percent.  Meanwhile her predecessor, former GOP gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton, actually cut SCDHEC’s budget by $68 million while improving service, expediting permit approval and increasing appeals.

In the first budget cycle following Heigel’s departure, however, SCDHEC received $644.4 million – an increase of $26.2 million (or 4.2 percent) from the previous year’s total of $618.2 million.

Why did it need all of that new money?  Good question …

We will certainly extend the benefit of the doubt to Toomey, whose private sector experience could continue the sort of efficient management this agency benefited from under Templeton and Heigel.

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