State News

Racine forced out as Human Services secretary

By Anne Galloway and VTDigger staff,

MONTPELIER–Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday, Aug. 12, ousted Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine and replaced him with Health Commissioner Harry Chen.

“I felt that Doug Racine had done great things for the agency,” Shumlin said at an unrelated news conference. “It was time for a leadership change and I made that change.”

On Monday afternoon Racine was called to a meeting with Jeb Spaulding and Liz Miller, the secretary of administration and Shumlin’s chief of staff.

“They told me the governor wanted to make a change,” Racine said, “and I said, ‘What change was that?’ They said, ‘you’.”

The firing caught Racine by surprise.  He says he had no inkling that Shumlin was unhappy with his work.  The governor is a hands-off manager, Racine says, and “never said a word to me about it.”

Shumlin called his old political rival later on Monday and told him he wanted “a new style of leader for the agency,” Racine said.  “Someone with an outward focus who could work with the media, focus groups and constituency groups.”

The Agency of Human Services has about 4,000 employees and oversees six departments, two of which have been under fire this year.  The agency has been criticized for the Department of Vermont Health Access’ troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect and for its management of the Department for Children and Families, which has been roiled by three child deaths this year that were ruled homicides.

Shumlin said at the news conference Tuesday that he did not immediately intend to replace Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, or David Yacovone, commissioner of DCF, but said Chen might reach a different conclusion.

“If there are ways that I feel … in terms of leadership changes that need to be made to address those challenges, that’s something I’m willing to do,” Chen said about any personnel changes.

Racine lost to Shumlin in the 2010 Democratic primary by 197 votes and was named secretary of AHS following Shumlin’s win in the general election.

Chen is expected to remain as interim secretary through the end of the year.  Tracy Dolan, deputy health commissioner, will head that department in the meantime.

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