DHEC chairman says search for new leader started months ago

Eleanor Kitzman has been named the new director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Her appointment must be approved by the state Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley.

Catherine Templeton informed the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board months ago that she would resign as the agency’s director and the ensuing search for a new leader was thorough, the DHEC Board of Directors chairman said this week.

“(Templeton) agreed to remain with us until a replacement candidate could be found,” Chairman Allen Amsler said. “This has not happened overnight as some have speculated.”

The board accepted Templeton’s resignation last week. On Monday afternoon, it voted to appoint Eleanor Kitzman as the agency’s new director. Her appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley.

Kitzman, who formerly served as head of the S.C. Budget and Control Board, left the state in 2011 after eight months on the job to lead the Texas Department of Insurance. That job ended in May 2013 because Texas senators refused to confirm her appointment by Gov. Rick Perry after Democrats questioned her close ties to the insurance industry. In December 2013, she was named vice president of Starr Insurance Holdings Inc. in New York.

She previously served as director of the S.C. Department of Insurance under Gov. Mark Sanford but resigned after a disagreement with the former governor.

“DHEC has made significant progress over the past three years, and the Board believes that Eleanor Kitzman with her strong leadership background is the best person to keep the agency moving in the right direction,” Amsler said in a prepared statement through a DHEC spokeswoman. “Upon the anticipated resignation of the director, action was taken by the Board to ensure a seamless transition process by designating an acting director from within the agency. A transition strategy was discussed, as well as several possible candidates, and Eleanor Kitzman was selected as the strongest candidate to continue the Board’s vision for the agency.”

Templeton joined DHEC three years ago. The Mount Pleasant resident previously served as director of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Last week, when she resigned, Templeton said she promised Haley four years of service and had fulfilled her commitment.

The governor’s office deferred questions about the board’s decision to DHEC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.