Sunday, June 07, 2015

Janek finally out as HHS director

Your Friday afternoon state execution. No, not that one. This one.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek is on his way out, state officials announced Friday, shaking up Texas' biggest agency that plunged into turmoil over a $110 million no-bid contracting scandal that remains under criminal investigation.

Janek, who makes $260,000 a year and was appointed in 2012, will step down on July 1.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made no mention of the unrest at the massive agency, which includes an ongoing probe by public corruption prosecutors and the forced resignation of other top officials, in naming two veteran state executives to take over the 56,000-person commission.

But tellingly, within an hour of announcing the changes, the governor touted his signing of contracting laws that are being tightened after HHSC last year gave an Austin tech company lucrative no-bid deals to help the state root out Medicaid fraud. 

Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.

Chief Deputy Commissioner Chris Traylor is set to assume the top job. But if Traylor knew it earlier this week, he certainly didn’t show it. The deputy commissioner announced last month that he was retiring and was actually feted Tuesday at a goodbye party for him.

Remember, ethics reform was an emergency item of the new governor's, announced at the beginning of the just-concluded 84th legislative session.   And the one thing he has to show for it is this bill, and Janek's scalp.  Not according to the good doctor, naturally.

Janek told reporters the decision to resign was his and was unrelated to the scandal. Asked if he felt any pressure from the governor's office, he said, "None."

"History will show this job has a shelf life," the 57-year-old said.

Traylor long had been seen as potential pick for the top job, but had said as recently as last month he would retire this summer.

A longtime health commission leader, he was seen inside the agency as more of Janek's co-captain than deputy since the two were appointed to their jobs in 2012 by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

Perhaps most importantly, he had avoided any blame for the contracting scandal, which previously had caused the resignations of four high-ranking officials, a criminal investigation and calls by several lawmakers for Janek to step down.

Republic and Democratic state legislators alike approve of Traylor, so there's that.

"I am thankful Commissioner Traylor agreed to forego his retirement," state Senate budget writer Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a statement. "His institutional memory and his understanding of the mechanics of our programs will be a huge asset, especially as we transition to a more cohesive health and human services system."

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of the legislators who had asked Janek to resign, said Friday that Traylor is "more than capable" of leading the commission at this time. 

"You need some experience, some hands on the wheel," said the Houston Democrat, who first met Traylor in 1995. "He's a straight shooter, tells the truth. He's seasoned." 

Okay then.  If the commission can't get its act cleaned up this time, then pretty much everybody running this state should be held accountable if yet another lapse in moral judgment suddenly appears.  With a former governor still under indictment and a current attorney general under investigation, the prevailing Lone Star attitude seems to be: what's a little graft from a health commissioner in the grand scheme?

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