Archive for Thursday, March 24, 2011

Democrats speak out against nominee for Kansas SRS secretary

March 24, 2011


— Democratic legislative leaders on Thursday said Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick to lead the state social welfare agency should be rejected.

But Brownback’s spokeswoman issued a statement defending Robert Siedlecki Jr., who faces a Senate confirmation hearing next week to become secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

“Secretary Siedlecki is a highly qualified public servant who is already off to a great start implementing proven approaches to reducing childhood poverty and improving the delivery of vital social services,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag. SRS had referred questions to Jones-Sontag. “The administration is very confident in his nomination,” she said.

But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said of Seidlecki, “I don’t think he is qualified.”

Hensley said a recent email raised questions about Siedlecki, who prior to coming to Kansas was chief of staff of the Florida Department of Health.

The email was written by a member of the board of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, Hensley said. He provided copies to reporters but blacked out the name of the writer.

The email says that during a recent meeting, Siedlecki said that after the Legislature finalized the SRS budget, he would reallocate funds to faith-based initiatives.

“I was shocked to hear that all the work that the Legislature was doing to allocate funding would be ignored by another branch of government because to my knowledge, over my 41 years in mental health that this has never happened before,” the email said.

The email had a date of March 17. Five days later, Mike Hammond, who is executive director of the Association of Mental Health Centers of Kansas, wrote to state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who is chair of the committee considering Siedlecki’s appointment.

In that letter, Hammond says that one of his board members misinterpreted Siedlecki’s comments. Hammond said Siedlecki has said he will honor the Legislature’s “intent on funding existing programs.” He also said the association supports Siedlecki’s nomination by Brownback.

Hensley said Hammond was coerced by Siedlecki to write that letter to McGinn. In an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, Hammond said that wasn’t true.

Hammond said one of Siedlecki’s staff members suggested that Hammond write the letter. But Hammond said he was more than happy to do that to clarify the association’s position.

In his budget proposal, Brownback has recommended cutting $15 million in mental health funding. Mental health advocates have been fighting the proposal.

Siedlecki and Brownback have expressed strong interest in pursuing faith-based initiatives in SRS. Siedlecki’s resume includes a stint as senior legal counsel to the task force on faith-based and community initiatives at the U.S. Justice Department.

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence and Hensley also criticized some recent hirings by Siedlecki.

Asked what the concern was, Davis said, “Two words. Bob Corkins.”

Corkins was hired by Siedlecki to be SRS’ chief legal counsel. In 2005, Corkins was running a one-person conservative think tank, when he was selected to be state education commissioner by a conservative majority on the State Board of Education despite the fact that he had no experience as a teacher or school administrator. He left that position in 2006 when the board majority changed.

Jeff Kahrs, who was chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, has been hired as Siedlecki’s chief of staff.

Hensley also questioned why Siedlecki was hired by Brownback at $115,000 per year, which is $2,250 more than former SRS secretary Don Jordan made. Jordan had 30 years of experience at the agency, Hensley said.


thebigspoon 6 years, 9 months ago

And the steamroller rolls on.....................

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Democrats say .... Blah, Blah, Blah. Republicans say .... Blah, Blah, Blah.

newmath 6 years, 9 months ago

Religious fanatics running government, I seem to remember a couple countries that are like that. What happened in those countries?

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

Nice way to cut the budget. A first year guy is suppose to start at the bottom of the pay scale. Another crony getting a cushy job. And you think civil service system is bad? Cronyism is even worse.

Glenn Reed 6 years, 9 months ago

"Faith-based initiative" is a phrase that should never be uttered in government. I mean, which faith are these initiatives based on? If you have an answer, then it's establishment of a religion. If you don't have an answer, then you're just nuts. If anyone's got a comment supporting "Faith-based" initiatives that doesn't violate the first amendment, I'd love to hear it.

Alceste 6 years, 9 months ago

They're "faith based" because all involved have faith that they're pockets are gonna get lined. "But it's for the children.". Bull's for those who faith that they're gonna get a contract and put the money in the bank, just like the good people at Kaw Valley; DCCCA; The Farm; KCSL; blah, blah, blah. "It's for the children." Right.....I've got faith it ain't for nobody 'cept them that has.....because them that has.....get.....

Zype 6 years, 9 months ago

I agree. You've got to love people who believe in the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, yet don't find anything wrong with introducing religion-based proposals. Separation of church and state. State should stay out of church affairs...but church doesn't have to stay out of state affairs? Ridiculous. So much for the 1st.

Brock Masters 6 years, 9 months ago

I hear you and generally that is a fair assessment, but from what I heard of this guy, he probably doesn't deserve to be confirmed.

4accountability 6 years, 9 months ago

Everyone knows SRS needs a major overhaul. Why not a guy from out of state who has experience leading a larger state agency? Lets take an inventory, so far the people hollaring are mostly those who stand to loose dollars or were performing poorly and already lost contracts. Kansas needs change. It will make some people uncomfortable and some outright angry. There is no doubt he is an improvement over the last Secretary who was a fool. (and whose appointment years ago was a true example of cronyism) Best wishes Mr. Siedlecki! You have a thankless job and huge mess to clean up!

4accountability 6 years, 9 months ago

Representative Hensley may have protected the individual source of the email but I believe the "confidentiality statement" at the end of it is associated with Center for Counseling & Consultation, Great Bend Ks.

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