There’s been a shakeup in the largest agency in Vermont state government this week. Human Services Secretary Doug Racine was abruptly told to leave by the Shumlin Administration on Tuesday.
There have been troubles at multiple departments within the Agency of Human Services.
The Department for Children and Families has faced controversy surrounding its role in overseeing the deaths of two toddlers who had been under the supervision of the department. There have also been problems plaguing the rollout of the Vermont Health Connect insurance marketplace by the Department of Vermont Health Access.
On Wednesday, Secretary Racine confirmed that he had no plans to leave the agency. “They did not ask me to resign. I did not resign. They told me that the governor was going to make a change and that I was out of a job effective immediately. This did take me by surprise. I enjoyed doing what I was doing. I felt like I was doing a good job. I’m really proud of the work that I’ve led over the last several years so I had no intention of moving anytime soon. I was hoping to continue in this job.”
Seven Days Political Columnist Paul Heintz says Racine’s departure is a big surprise, yet no surprise at all. “The agency that Secretary Racine has run for the last three and a half years is a sprawling agency with a number of very complicated social service departments within it. Two of those departments have faced relatively big problems in the last year. So there has certainly been quite a bit of finger-pointing in the last year directed at people within the agency. So in a way it is not surprising that somebody’s head rolled. It is a little surprising that it was Doug Racine’s head. There are commissioners who run those two departments where the problems have been. Some people have called for them to resign, but it appears that Governor Shumlin thought that Doug Racine was the one to go.”
The announcement came in a press release Tuesday. During an unrelated press conference recorded by Vermont Digger, Governor Peter Shumlin was peppered with questions about Racine’s release and did not offer a clear reason why the administration fired him. “I felt that Doug Racine had done great things for the agency. It was time for a leadership change and I made that change.”
Vermont Digger Editor Anne Galloway says the move may point to a desire by the governor for a change in administrative style at the agency. “This is a huge shake-up. It’s the first time that Governor Peter Shumlin has fired a cabinet member. Racine is in charge of a large agency. It’s six departments include the Department of Vermont Health Access and the Department of Children and Families which has had some recent toddler deaths that has made people question how well the agency is managed. I think the governor is concerned that Racine has not been as visible a secretary as he thinks he needs to be. He wants someone who can communicate with the public at large, the media and constituency groups the steps that they’re taking to remedy problems. So that’s part of the issue.”
Health Commissioner Harry Chen replaces Racine as interim Secretary at the Agency of Human Services. The Deputy Commissioner of Health Tracy Dolan will head that department.
An extended conversation with Doug Racine about his departure from the administration is available here: