SALEM — Erinn Kelley-Siel is out as director of the Department of Human Services, which has the largest workforce among Oregon state agencies.
Gov. Kate Brown announced the change, which takes effect after Brown appoints a successor.
“She is an exceptional leader with the rare ability to integrate compassion and strategic thinking into all that she does,” Brown said in a statement. “Oregon was fortunate to benefit from her talent and leadership in public service for more than 13 years.”
Kelley-Siel, in a statement to agency employees, said one reason for her departure is her family. She was asked by then Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2008 to take over one of the DHS divisions upon the death of its leader, Bryan Johnston.
“At the time, my son was a baby and just prior to that call, I had promised my family that I was going to stop commuting to Salem,” she said in the statement. “Well, it’s time for me to keep that promise. I have let Gov. Brown know that it’s time for me to leave DHS.”
State Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, praised Kelley-Siel, who called her just before the governor’s announcement Friday.
“She has done an incredible job,” said Winters, who has been on the Legislature’s human services budget subcommittee for more than a decade, and has known her since Kelley-Siel was health and human services adviser to Kulongoski.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult state agencies to manage. It’s constantly putting out fires. Given all the changes that have happened there, I think she’s done a good job.”
It is the first departure of an agency head since the end of the 2015 legislative session.
Since Brown became governor Feb. 18 upon the resignation of John Kitzhaber, she has replaced two agency chiefs: Michael Jordan at the Department of Administrative Services, and Rob Saxton at the Department of Education.
Jordan’s interim successor is George Naughton, the state’s chief financial officer. Jordan is now a bureau director with Portland city government.
Saxton resigned to become superintendent of the Northwest Regional Education Service District. He was succeeded by Salam Noor, a former Salem-Keizer schools official who had worked at the education agency and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
Kelley-Siel has led the human services agency since 2011, when the Oregon Health Authority was separated from it. Although the health agency has the bigger budget, the Department of Human Services still has the largest workforce at nearly 8,000 employees in the current two-year budget cycle.
Its current two-year budget is $10.2 billion, about $7 billion of which comes from the federal government and $2.7 billion from the state’s tax-supported general fund. It’s still the second largest budget among state agencies. The bulk of the budget goes to payments to local governments and service providers.
The agency provides services to children, families, seniors and people with disabilities.
Kelley-Siel joined state government back in 2003 as health and human services policy adviser to then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski. She became a division leader at DHS in 2008, then advanced to the top job in 2011 by Kitzhaber after the state’s health programs were put into a separate agency.
During her tenure, the agency had record caseloads in several categories. The numbers of recipients of food and welfare assistance have been dropping, although they are still above pre-2007 levels.