More lawmakers call for the resignation of DSS Chief

DSS Director Lillian Koller answers reporters' questions in April after a panel hearing in Columbia.

Two Senators have joined the ranks of several lawmakers calling for the resignation of the Department of Social Services director.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said Wednesday he was joining the members of the Senate's DSS Oversight Committee in calling for the resignation of DSS Director Lillian Koller. And Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Columbia, added he too called on Koller to resign last month.

Kimpson's decision comes on the heels of a Wednesday Post and Courier story that detailed how nearly a third of DSS workers were shouldering larger than recommended caseloads for the month of May, according to a May 18 internal report.

A review of DSS internal documents revealed 29 percent of workers had 16 cases or more, as of May 18. Those numbers differed from a reported statewide caseload average of six per worker, a number frequently repeated by agency leaders.

"I think we have a fire that has spread across the state and it's time for the Governor to put that fire out," Kimpson said. "I realize that calling for the resignation of a governor's appointee is an extreme measure that should be used sparingly, but we are dealing with children's lives and I can't think of anything more important than that."

Courson said he called for Koller's resignation over a month ago, following her testimony before the Senate panel in April and after discussing additional background on the issue with its members.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, added that DSS is "in sore need of good leadership," but said he was not ready to call for Koller's resignation at this point.

"The agency has had problems for years, but the director has to bring those problems to the surface instead of trying to sweep them under the rug," Grooms said. "There was a lot of hope that there would be sweeping changes at the agency when Mrs. Koller was confirmed by the Senate. Many of us are pretty disappointed with Mrs. Koller's leadership."

The two members of the panel who not only have called on Koller to resign, but have called on Gov. Nikki Haley to fire Koller, said Wednesday they were frustrated with the agency's reported number of caseloads.

The Governor's office did not return requests for comment as of late Wednesday.

"The caseworkers at the Department of Social Services have some of the toughest jobs in the state and giving them the support and guidance they need to be successful is our top priority," DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said in a statement Wednesday night. "DSS is constantly working to improve the procedures and methods our caseworkers practice - which is why we are currently developing a system and set standards that will reduce caseloads and help DSS effectively respond to the needs of children and families. It's easy to criticize but it's a lot harder to provide the solutions that will improve outcomes and save lives and that is exactly what DSS and Director Koller are focused on achieving."

Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said the agency's numbers have changed "too many times."

"Somebody is lying," Shealy said. "I'm not trying to throw anybody under the bus. I just want to fix it."

But she added it's unlikely lawmakers will be able to address all of the agency's issues before the end of the legislative session on June 5.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said the work that needs to be done to correct the agency should include providing additional staff and resources for current workers to reassure them that they have the support of the General Assembly.

"This falls right on the lap of the Governor and Mrs. Koller, who up until recently had been telling us what a wonderful job they were doing when there's undeniable evidence to the contrary," Lourie said. "The fact that the director has remained in her position is a mystery to many of us who have worked with this issue."

Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said this shows why children in South Carolina need a voice. Young chairs the three-member DSS Oversight Committee. He added the subcommittee will be the children's voice as they investigate.

"If the information is accurate, then I am even more troubled with the workload that a number of caseworkers have across the state," Young said. "Those are staggering numbers for certain caseworkers and, if accurate, clearly show that the agency needs to lower the caseloads in order to improve child welfare in South Carolina."

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.