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March 5, 2012
TOPEKA Parents and grandparents of children who’ve been in the state’s foster care system are urging their senators to vote against confirming Phyllis Gilmore as secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
“We need a person in that position who’s above reproach,” said Marlene Jones, a Wichita woman whose grandson was removed from her daughter’s home in 2005.
Jones said she and other parents and grandparents have been sending emails to their senators.
The emails were mentioned several times during Gilmore’s confirmation hearing Monday before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“We’ve all received these emails,” said Sen. Kelly Kultala, a Kansas City Democrat.
The emails accused Gilmore, a former executive director at the state Behavioral Science Regulatory Board, of not having done enough to investigate parents’ and grandparents’ complaints that social workers had lied in court or conspired against their families.
Gilmore said the complaints were misguided, noting that the decisions not to act on the complaints were not hers to make but were made by the board.
“I was not a decision-making person as it related to the board,” she said. “I carried out the board’s wishes and worked with licensees in that capacity.”
Gilmore also told the committee that decisions to remove children from their homes are made by the courts, not by social workers or SRS.
In other testimony
Gilmore, a former Kansas legislator, also said she was comfortable with a recent policy change that led to more than 1,000 children being dropped from the state’s food stamp program.
Most of the children affected by the change were U.S. citizens whose parents were not U.S. citizens.
To offset the reduction in eligibility, Gilmore said, the department has been referring families to the nearest food pantries.
Asked how SRS would expand community-based services for the mentally ill, Gilmore said she didn’t know.
“I wish that I could give you a good answer, but I don’t believe I can,” she said. “What I can tell you is that my heart very much cares about the mental health of the citizens, and I think that’s very vitally important. I wish I had a good answer.”
Gilmore said she was aware that cuts in state spending had led to community mental health centers seeing fewer patients.
Earlier this year, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed eliminating a $5 million fund used to underwrite services for families with mentally ill children.
Gilmore said she didn’t know if the funding could be restored.
In response to a questionnaire she’d received from the committee, Gilmore said she might be criticized by the Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers “due to my conservative views, but I doubt it.”
“I don’t know why she’d say that,” said Sky Westerlund, the association’s executive director. “We’re neutral on her appointment. This isn’t something we would weigh in on.”
The committee did not vote on whether to recommend Gilmore’s appointment.
“We have 30 days,” McGinn said. Gilmore has been interim secretary for 21 days.
McGinn said she wanted to give the full committee the opportunity to vote on Gilmore’s confirmation.
Sens. Ty Masterson of Augusta and Mark Taddiken of Clifton did not attend the hearing Monday. Both men are Republicans.
It is not unusual for cabinet appointees to draw some criticism during their confirmation hearings. It would be unusual if the committee were to vote to not recommend the confirmation.
Gilmore's immediate predecessor at SRS, Rob Siedlecki, had his confirmation voted against by a single senator. Siedlecki resigned to take another job in Florida but not before facing strong criticism from many legislators for various policy changes he introduced at SRS.