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Brooks should resign  or be fired

By By Sid Salter / syndicated columnist
June 6, 2002
At some point, trouble becomes cumulative. For Janice Broome Brooks, that time is now.
It's time for Brooks to step down as executive director of the state Department of Human Services. If she doesn't step down, it's time for Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to relieve her of her duties. There's not a nicer way say it.
Agency in crisis
DHS is in a state of crisis. Brooks has alienated the leadership of the Legislature upon whom her agency is dependent for funding. Whether through her own rather aloof personal style or an extension of the Legislature's ongoing political feud with Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Brooks has torn the political blanket with key lawmakers. And it can't be mended.
Understaffed and overworked DHS staffers are paying the price for Brooks' ruined relationship with the lawmakers as are DHS service recipients including the state's poorest and most vulnerable children. That's just not right.
Is that ruined relationship a province of Brooks' race or gender? The Legislature's overwhelmingly positive relationship with Division of Medicaid Director Rica Lewis-Payton clearly puts the lie to that suggestion. This isn't about race.
Payton, like Brooks, is an articulate, intelligent black woman. Like Brooks, Payton routinely gives the Legislature news that they do not like. Unlike Brooks, however, Payton does so in a manner that doesn't burn political bridges.
DHS didn't get in a fiscal and organizational mess solely by virtue of Brooks' management decisions. Musgrove and the Legislature share responsibility for the unprecedented expansion of DHS programs and for the budget decisions that left the state unable to fund that expansion. Yet they still point fingers.
Budget cuts have decimated DHS and left the agency 277 employees shy of its full work force. More budget cuts will take place unless the agency gets $19.8 million in additional funding .
Lack of credibility
There, for many lawmakers, lies the rub. They believe Brooks' wasn't forthright with them about the agency's fiscal situation until in the final days of the 2002 regular session. They consider the $19.8 million shortfall a deficit appropriation.
To be fair, Brooks may have been sacrificed to the rancor that exits between Musgrove and the legislative leadership. That fight was not Brooks' fight, but she nonetheless took the licks for it in the budget hearing process.
But Brooks' apparently inability to rally the Legislature behind her agency's mission has finally proven an Achilles heel to her effectiveness.
From the Legislature and from Attorney General Mike Moore, Brooks is hit with the allegation that she doesn't follow through on critical initiatives and that she is inaccessible. Some of the those claims appear true.
Can Mississippi endure another year of political squabbling over DHS? The numbers beg for a faster solution.
The Children's Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C. -based non-profit child advocacy organization, offers the following assessment of how well Mississippi ranks nationally in terms of taking care of poor children:
48th in the percentage of children living in poverty at 25.8 percent or 194,241 children;
47th in the percentage of preschool age children living in poverty at 28.8 percent or 66,553 children;
50th in the percentage of children born to unmarried parents at 45.9 percent;
50th in the rate of teen births at 72.5 per thousand;
50th in the rate of low birthweight babies at 10.3 per thousand;
48th in the rate of infant mortality at 10.1 per thousand.
It's time to set DHS on a new and more solvent path under new leadership.