DHEC board beginning search for new director

Eleanor Kitzman has withdrawn her name from consideration for the top job at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The search for a new candidate to lead the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will get underway this week after Gov. Nikki Haley’s nominee withdrew from consideration in the face of opposition to her confirmation.

Eleanor Kitzman bowed out after being questioned by senators during confirmation hearings last week about her qualifications for the job, her political connections and omissions on disclosure forms about her finances and fundraising for Haley’s campaigns.

Kitzman on Monday was terminated by the agency where she had been working since January in a temporary $74-an-hour job evaluating programs and staff pending confirmation as director.

In the wake of Kitzman’s abrupt withdrawal, a leading state environmental group urged the DHEC board to conduct a more transparent search for the next director.

“We would like the next DHEC director to have proven management experience, and a history of working in public health or environmental fields,” Alan Hancock, campaign director for Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said in an email Monday.

DHEC’s board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the search for a new director.

Kitzman, who was expected to face another grilling when hearings resumed this week, had previously served as Budget and Control Board director under Haley and as former Gov. Mark Sanford’s director of the Department of Insurance. She was forced out of Sanford’s administration in a dispute over her handling of soaring insurance rates for coastal homeowners after Hurricane Katrina. Kitzman left Sanford’s administration in 2007.

Afterward, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry named her insurance commissioner, but the Texas Senate rejected the nomination.

Kitzman told DHEC Board Chairman Allen Amsler in a letter that she was “retracting my acceptance of the Board’s offer of employment.”

“While it is not my nature or history to retreat when confronted with difficulty, I know from recent personal experience how this scenario plays out,” she wrote in a letter.

Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said Monday the governor did not ask Kitzman to withdraw her name from consideration.

In a prepared statement, Amsler called Kitzman’s decision “an unfortunate occurrence for DHEC and South Carolina.”

DHEC attorney Marshall Taylor has been officially acting as the agency’s interim director since former DHEC Director Catherine Templeton resigned in early January.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.