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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Janie Miller's [Thankful] Exit.

Editorial | Janie Miller's exit

In many ways, Janie Miller’s is a crucial but thankless job. As secretary for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, she presides over a sprawling bureaucracy that is tasked with providing a safety net for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.

She has done this at a time of great challenge, when a teetering economy forced tremendous budget cuts from programs designed to protect the young, the sick, the disabled, the elderly. As she has noted, the cabinet has dealt with eight to 10 budget cuts in the past four years, the time of her tenure, and the next budget also is grim.

That context notwithstanding, Ms. Miller has come under increasing fire, stemming particularly from snarls in the state’s new Medicaid managed care system and from the cabinet’s continuing refusal to comply fully with a judge’s order to release records regarding child abuse deaths.

It was the latter issue that led Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican who heads the interim joint Health and Welfare Committee, to call in December for Ms. Miller’s resignation.

Not only was the cabinet’s annual report about child abuse deaths three months late, it also did not include the death of 9-year-old Amy Dye of Western Kentucky, who was killed by her step-brother after officials alerted the cabinet to suspected abuse in the girl’s home; the cabinet said it didn’t have to include her death because it was not at the hand of a parent.

Sen. Denton accused the cabinet of obstructing legislators and of withholding information. “The buck stops with the secretary,” she said.

Earlier this week, Gov. Steve Beshear announced that Secretary Miller would resign, effective Feb. 29. “Janie Miller has done extraordinary work in an especially difficult time. I am grateful for her tireless work,” the Governor said.

Other officials and advocates were less fulsome in their praise. They described the “secretive” nature of the cabinet, and difficulties in seeing cabinet representatives and being heard by them. “That place has been locked up tighter than Fort Knox,” said one advocate.

That characterization has also been at the heart of the legal disagreement between Kentucky’s two largest newspapers, including The Courier-Journal, and Miller’s cabinet in the ongoing court battle to have the records of child abuse deaths opened for examination.

Under Ms. Miller’s leadership, the cabinet defied several court orders to release fuller reports. Given what has become known in the reporting made available so far, that is an indefensible position, and her resignation should be welcomed by those who want greater transparency and more accountability in government.

Gov. Beshear must seek a successor who will make those values a priority — and the new secretary must diligently work to foster a spirit of openness and accountability throughout the cabinet.
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