Health Dept. defends hiring former senator as Animal Welfare director

Delaware Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia M. Blevins, D-Elsmere, was back at the helm Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Patricia M. Blevins

DOVER — In response to questions from two Republican senators, the Department of Health and Social Services is defending its hire of a former high-ranking state lawmaker.

Patricia Blevins, a Democrat who served in the Senate from 1990 until defeated in November, was named director of the Office of Animal Welfare in January.

She had been the Senate president pro tempore for the last four years and helped create the Office of Animal Welfare in 2013.

Minority Leader Gary Simpson and Minority Whip Greg Lavelle sent a letter to DHSS Secretary Kara Odom Walker last month alleging the hiring was unethical.

Dr. Walker wrote in her response Wednesday that a search had been conducted for a new director after Hetti Brown stepped down in December. But the effort failed to land a suitable person.

“This position was offered to Patricia Blevins following the conclusion of the search process,” Dr. Walker wrote.

“Ms. Blevins has nearly 20 years of experience in managing personnel and social service agencies, including nine years as executive director of the Delaware Helpline and three years managing the Denison Branch of Girls Inc.

“She also served on the Elsmere Town Council and as mayor of Elsmere. Given her management experience, combined with her intimate knowledge of animal welfare programs, partners, funding and challenges in the state, she was the most qualified person for the position.”

The Republican senators had specifically asked whether Ms. Blevins applied for and interviewed for the position and what experience other applicants had.

In a statement, Sens. Simpson and Lavelle blasted the DHSS response.

“DHSS engaged in an aggressive search and identified at least 70 applications who could have been suitable to serve in the executive director’s position for the Office of Animal Welfare,” they said. “The timeframe for submission of applications to serve as executive director ended on Oct. 26, 2016, prior to the November election. This raises significant questions that must be addressed.

“We couldn’t be more disappointed and offended by the total lack of a response to any of our questions. To think that a nationwide search conveniently failed to offer anyone qualified for this hire is preposterous. This confirms our opinion that this was a political favoritism job, the wagons have been circled and the true and shadowy Delaware Way wins again.

“In a literal response to this unacceptable letter, the best thing we can say is that animals all over Delaware should be thrilled that Senator Blevins lost her election and can now look after them.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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