NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services has resigned amid scrutiny of how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.
Governor Bill Haslam announced in a news release Tuesday that Kate O'Day had decided to resign because of concerns that she had become the focus of attention rather than the children the agency is meant to serve.
The announcement came less than 24 hours before O'Day was scheduled to testify in front of State Senate lawmakers. Some state elected officials have said DCS has not been run adequately since O'Day was appointed to oversee it.
"The job was too big for her and she just didn't have the CEO skills to run that department and do what was right for children," said State Representative Sherry Jones.
Representative Jones said she has received numerous complaints in the two years O'Day has been Commissioner.
"We're there to help children and we haven't been doing that," said Rep. Jones. "I don't think there is anybody out there that will tell you that they respect the department and what the department does."
Last week, Governor Haslam defended O'Day's leadership, even after the agency told a federal judge it couldn't say with any certainty how many children died that had some kind of involvement with the department.
DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 150 children who died after the state launched abuse or neglect investigations.
In January, Governor Haslam's office revealed that an independent monitor found there were nine more deaths than the 151 reported deaths of children who had previous contact with the agency between Jan. 2009 and mid-2012. He also said he would appoint a senior adviser in his office to conduct an analysis of DCS operations.
Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said DCS is a very difficult department to handle, but she hopes this change is for the better of all children which DCS serves.
"I wish her well. I am thankful for the service she gave her state," said Harwell. "I think this maybe gives the administration an opportunity to put some needed changes in place."
O'Day joined the Haslam administration in January 2011.
The governor has named Commissioner Jim Henry, who currently heads up the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), to serve as interim commissioner of DCS.
Henry will continue to serve as commissioner of DIDD during his interim role of leading DCS. The governor will immediately begin a search for a new commissioner of DCS.