TN DCS Commissioner Resigns Ahead of Hearing on Child Deaths

Credit TN Department of Children's Services

The commissioner of an embattled state agency has resigned. Kate O’Day steps down as head of the Department of Children Services one day before she was to testify about child deaths.

A statement from Governor Bill Haslam’s office says O’Day “felt the time was right” to leave. She entered the job two years ago and has been under intense scrutiny in recent months for undocumented fatalities and a computer system plagued with glitches. Just this week, her office told newspapers they’d have to pay $55,000 to get copies of case files in question.

O’Day’s critics, like Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones, say she also was difficult to work with.

“Advocates couldn’t get in to talk to her, and that’s just not the way your run a department when you’re supposed to be taking care of the state’s children.”

While Democrats have been hard on O’Day, several acknowledge the job is one of the most difficult in state government. Governor Bill Haslam defended O’Day until the end. He has named the Commissioner of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to serve as interim head of DCS.

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis says O’Day’s resignation was becoming inevitable. Lawsuits and a drumbeat of criticism have been directed at her office.

“I can’t for one second believe that this was not eating her alive – as a woman, as a mother. It was inevitable that at some point throw up her hands and give up,” he says.

Sen. Rusty Crowe of upper East Tennessee chairs a committee with oversight of DCS and says O’Day may still be called to testify.

“I could see a scenario where that might be, if Jim Henry and the assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners can’t answer the questions that we need answered.”

It’s now unclear when representatives of DCS will testify to state lawmakers. The hearing was scheduled for today.