Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on Friday announced an overhaul of the leadership and focus of the state welfare agency.
"This transition marks a new day at SRS," Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedlecki said.
SRS News Release ( .RTF )
But a former SRS secretary, Robert Harder, said the changes were troubling. "I read it with a heavy heart," said Harder after reading Siedlecki's press release.
Harder, the longest serving SRS secretary in state history who held the post from 1973 to 1987 and briefly in 1991, said he was concerned that the changes Siedlecki announced were done without input from stakeholders, Siedlecki's emphasis on faith-based initiatives raised numerous questions and all the top leaders in the agency are from out of state.
"It would seem like it would have been a good idea to have some kind of a public meeting where there would have been some opportunity to have interaction with the public and people who are currently receiving services, and vulnerable Kansas, and advocates," he said.
Siedlecki's announcement was made in a short prepared statement followed by a list of new employees and their information.
The statement was released at the end of the business day before a three-day holiday weekend. No one from the Brownback administration made themselves available to answer questions about how many SRS employees lost their jobs and what the transformation meant to the thousands of people who receive assistance through SRS, one of the largest state agencies in Kansas.
Several high-ranking SRS employees have been replaced since Brownback appointed Siedlecki.
"We have assembled a team of experienced leaders who will focus on transforming SRS into an agency committed to improving the well-being of children and families, while remaining accountable to the taxpayers of Kansas through transparency and reform," Siedlecki said in the news release.
Some of the new employees came from Florida and the Bush administration, both stops in Siedlecki's career before he was chosen by Brownback to lead SRS in Kansas.
According to the news release, the new SRS team includes:
-- Deputy Secretary of Integrated Service Delivery Jim Kallinger, who has served in various positions in Florida, including four years as that state's Chief Child Advocate.
-- Deputy Secretary of Disability and Behavioral Health Services Pedro Moreno, who has experience in the state of Florida, federal government and private sector.
-- Deputy Secretary of Administration Greg Harris, who has experience working for the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Senate.
-- Deputy Secretary for Strategic Development and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Anna Pilato, who served five years in the Bush administration, including as director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The release lists approximately 20 more employees placed in high-ranking jobs.
Harder said the leadership's lack of experience in Kansas worried him.
"It makes me wonder what the flavor of the program will be in terms of the basic heritage and tradition that Kansans have grown accustomed to, which is doing the problem-solving and caring about neighbors," he said.
Harder, who is also a Methodist minister and volunteer advocate for persons with disabilities, also said he was concerned about the Brownback administration's emphasis on faith-based initiatives for families.
"Does family mean an intact family, a father, mother and children, or is there room in there for a single mother, or a non-traditional family, such as gay or lesbian or both? Are they excluded from the family initiatives? All of that remains unanswered," Harder said.