MONTPELIER -- After a troubled year at multiple departments within the Vermont Agency of Human Services, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday announced the departure of agency Secretary Doug Racine.
"These decisions are difficult, but the Governor felt a change in leadership at AHS was needed at this time," Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen said in an email.
The announcement followed controversies within state government’s largest agency. The Vermont Health Connect insurance exchange website continues to be plagued by technical problems 10 months after its launch last October. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about whether the Department for Children and Families could have done more to prevent the alleged abuse deaths of two babies who had been under state supervision.
The agency includes the departments of Health, Mental Health, Children and Families, Corrections and others that provide services to vulnerable populations and where adverse outcomes often generate intense scrutiny.
"I appreciate Doug’s hard work over three and a half years to help Vermont’s most vulnerable," Shumlin said in a statement. "This has been a tough job, but now is the right time to start with new leadership to take the Agency of Human Services forward."
Racine, 61, said later that he was disappointed in the decision.
"I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done, and I feel good about it," he said. Racine said he had helped "bring better services to the Vermonters we do serve.
Racine said he had been notified at a meeting Monday with Shumlin’s administration secretary, Jeb Spaulding, and chief of staff, Elizabeth Miller.
Spaulding said, "The governor feels like it’s time to make a change in your agency," Racine recalled Tuesday. "I said, ‘Who’s changing?’ and he said ‘You."’
In his statement, Shumlin praised Racine’s work in moving the agency to a "data-driven, results-based planning strategy" and revamping the mental health system after the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury was prompted to close by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
Shumlin appointed Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen to head up the sprawling Human Services Agency on an interim basis. Tracy Dolan will move up from deputy health commissioner to replace Chen.
Racine, a former state senator and lieutenant governor who lost narrowly to Shumlin in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary, said he had no certain plans, and expressed doubt he would seek election to public office again.
Racine was one of three 2010 primary rivals whom Shumlin hired into high-ranking jobs as he prepared to take office. Secretary of Natural Resources Deb Markowitz and Susan Bartlett, whom Shumlin hired as a special assistant before she moved over to handle special projects at the Agency of Human Services, remain in their jobs.
The campaign in which Shumlin is seeking a third two-year term this year is just heating up, but the administration’s handling of Vermont Health Connect and the child-protection cases are expected to generate strong criticism from his opponents.