SC senator blames agency director’s early resignation on ‘problematic’ commission

Dr. Michelle Fry resigned from her position after only 14 months on Tuesday.
Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 3:42 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2022 at 6:41 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - If it weren’t for the seven-person commission that helps to run the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, the department would still have a director, one state senator says.

Dr. Michelle Fry resigned from her position after only 14 months on Tuesday.

Fry announced her resignation to staff writing “I have reached the difficult decision to resign as State Director. This is a very difficult decision because I respect, admire, and genuinely enjoy working with each of you and all the great things we have accomplished at DDSN.”

State Senator Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington County), who requested an audit of the department by the legislative audit council, said Fry gave her hope for the future of DDSN. Shealy has met regularly with her during her tenure, and says the commission is to blame for her exit.

“We’re back to the drawing board,” she said. “The commission has just not let her do her job.”

“She’s not been able to make the changes without being so highly scrutinized that it’s just become impossible for her and nobody can work under those circumstances,” Shealy added.

The commission members are appointed by the governor, at the recommendation of the senate.

In February 2021, the commission voted to fire former director Mary Poole alleging that she mishandled an executive sexual harassment issue, but never provided additional details.

READ MORE: Documents reveal what led up to firing of SC disabilities director

An audit is underway, and its findings are expected to be published in early January.

Shealy expects it will include recommendations to re-structure the department, that would follow a cabinet structure rather than a commission.

“It’s kind of like an octopus where you got a head, but all the tentacles are going to different way and eventually it’s just, it pulled the head apart,” Shealy said.

She says there is similar legislation in the works to re-organize the department.

“I hope this is a wake-up call to that commission. We have people that have special needs... and here we’re just playing around with it. This is not a game,” she said.

Commissioners meet every third Thursday of the month, but did not meet during this month.

The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs released a statement on Wednesday night:

On behalf of the DDSN Commission, I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Michelle Fry for her unwavering dedication and service to our agency. Under her leadership, DDSN has made significant changes in how services are delivered in an effort to improve the lives of our most vulnerable South Carolinians. She has led a significant shift in focus on quality management, overhauled the leadership at DDSN, and increased the focus on and access to person-centered services. While we are deeply saddened to see her leave, we wish Dr. Fry the very best in her future endeavors. As a Commission, we are committed to ensuring a smooth transition as we move ahead. I am confident that the DDSN Executive Leadership team is comprised of the right people with the right experience to continue making positive changes. We will be diligent in our search for a new director. In the meantime, the commission will meet and name an interim director on or before Dr. Fry’s last day. We will put in place someone who has been involved every step of the way in moving DDSN forward in making positive, impactful changes and will provide continuity to our agency. Please be assured as a Commission and as an agency we will continue to keep our focus on positive changes to provide the best possible services to vulnerable South Carolinians.

Stephanie M. Rawlinson, MHA Commission Chair South Carolina Disabilities and Special Needs