GOP questions ethics of hiring defeated Dem senator as Animal Welfare chief

After her loss in the November General Election, former state senator Patricia Blevins was named head of the Animal Welfare office.

DOVER — Senate Republicans are crying foul over the appointment of a former Democratic state senator to a high-paying state job.

Minority Leader Gary Simpson and Minority Whip Greg Lavelle on Wednesday sent a letter to Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker. They questioned the “ethics and the hiring process” regarding new Office of Animal Welfare director Patricia Blevins.

Ms. Blevins, who served as a state senator from 1990 to 2016 and as president pro tempore for the last four years, was hired in January as the director.
The Office of Animal Welfare handles, among other areas, animal cruelty prevention and enforcement, dog licensing and rabies control.

“First, although the position was not subject to the state’s requirements for hiring under the merit rules, it is clear that an effort was made to mirror the merit hiring process prior to that process seemingly being abandoned,” the senators wrote in their letter.

“One of the reasons for having such a process in place is to ensure that individuals most suited for a position are selected based solely upon their qualifications and suitability for the position, as opposed to any special relationship that they may have with the hiring authority.

“In other words, the merit hiring process prevents what is described as ‘pre-selection’ from occurring, whereby an individual with a special relationship is selected rather than selecting/hiring individuals based solely upon their relevant qualifications.”

The Office of Animal Welfare was created in 2013 as a result of recommendations from a task force formed by the General Assembly and chaired by Ms. Blevins.

Sens. Simpson and Lavelle, who represent Milford and Sharpley, respectively, asked several specific questions, including whether Ms. Blevins applied for and interviewed for the position and what experience other applicants had.
In a statement, Dr. Walker rejected the concerns raised by Sens. Simpson and Lavelle.

“I am confident that Patricia Blevins has the experience and qualifications needed to direct the Office of Animal Welfare,” she said. “Of course, we take all questions asked by the General Assembly seriously, and will respond appropriately to Senators Simpson and Lavelle.”

A DHSS spokeswoman refused requests to interview Dr. Walker and Ms. Blevins.

Animal Welfare director is a high-paying position — former officeholder Hetti Brown, who left in December to move to the Midwest, was paid more than $83,000 in 2015.

Ms. Blevins’ hiring has become a flashpoint that could play a role in Feb. 25’s crucial Senate special election. Republican nominee John Marino has criticized the move, saying in a statement after it was announced last month: “The insiders in state government found a safe landing place for a career politician, like they always do. The Office of Animal Welfare was just recently created, and now the office will be held by a career politician whose only qualification for the job is that she sponsored the bill creating it.”

Ms. Blevins, who lost to Republican Anthony Delcollo in November, has previously worked as executive director of the Delaware Helpline and with the Dennison Branch of Girls Inc., a nonprofit.

DHSS said it is in the process of drafting a response to the senators and does not have a timetable for when it might be issued.

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