Nominee to lead Social Services turnaround welcomes Senate’s help

Susan Alford listens to Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, during her confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate’s Full General Committee.

COLUMBIA — A day after satisfying a small screening committee with her vision for leading the S.C. Department of Social Services, Susan Alford passed muster Wednesday with a larger group of senators.

The Senate Full General Committee unanimously recommended that Alford, 60, be confirmed as DSS chief, sending her nomination to the full Senate.

Alford faced similar questions to the ones she answered Tuesday, only from different senators,

On Wednesday, Alford told Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, that she intended to fully staff all county offices in response to his concerns about turnover at the child and adult protection agency.

DSS has faced a high turnover rate in recent months, and has been racing to fill already vacant positions even as the exodus continues.

“Right now it’s a revolving door,” Alford said. “I’ve got to get that door moving slower.”

Sheheen warned Alford that she has a lot of work to do at an agency that has rarely been made a priority by previous governors.

“It is a particularly heavy burden,” Sheheen said. “You’re going to have a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

As senators prepared to wrap up the confirmation hearing and ultimately vote for her confirmation, Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, stressed she would not forget DSS.

“We’re not going to send you out there on your own and forget about you,” Shealy said. “We’re going to keep watching. We’re going to watch the caseloads. We’re going to watch the employee turnover. We’re going to make sure there’s a (turnaround of the agency).”

After the hearing, Alford told Shealy and Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, “Please don’t leave me.” Alford clarified to reporters it was her way of welcoming their oversight.

“Having the Senate to continue to be a voice to try to advocate for us will be huge,” Alford said. “And I need them to do that. So that’s why I was saying, ‘Please don’t leave me.’ There’s much work to do, and we need to do it together.”

Alford, who formerly headed the Youth Learning Institute’s Girl’s Center at Clemson University, was nominated by Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Lillian Koller.

The former DSS director resigned under fire in July amid a Senate investigation into child deaths and reports of mismanagement, unworkable caseloads and whether Koller had provided misleading statistics to hide the extent of the problems.

Initially, some senators voiced dissatisfaction with Haley’s selection, saying they had been excluded from the search for a new DSS director, while others questioned her qualifications.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.