Perdue picks lobbyist to head DHHS
Posted January 6, 2009 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Governor-elect Beverly Perdue on Tuesday named Lanier Cansler, a lobbyist and former legislator, as secretary of the beleaguered state Department of Health and Human Services.
The selection was part of the last round of cabinet appointments by Perdue, who will be inaugurated on Saturday.
Kenneth Lay, a Bank of America executive, was named to head the Department of Revenue. Dee Freeman, the executive director of the Triangle J Council of Governments, will lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Britt Cobb will retain his position as secretary of the Department of Administration.
Cansler, who served as DHHS deputy secretary from 2001 to 2005, has been a partner in the Cansler Fuquay Solutions lobbying and consulting firm for the past four years. The firm represented Computer Sciences Corp., which recently won a $265 million contract to handle North Carolina's Medicaid billing system.
DHHS oversees the Medicaid program and the state's mental health system, among other programs, and his ties to the Medicaid contract caused concern among some patient advocates.
"It would be nice if this important announcement was not clouded ... with a potential conflict of interest," said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina.
Smith said she hopes Cansler's former job won't interfere with his new one.
Cansler said he would work to avoid any conflict of interest.
"Whenever we have any issue with (the Medicaid contract), I'll be working with the Governor's Office as well as the deputy secretary and other leadership to make sure I'm insulated from anything that may have anything to play with that," he said.
DHHS has come under fire in recent months for problems with patient safety at state mental hospitals. A move toward community-based treatment that occurred during Cansler's previous tenure with the department also has been criticized for its adverse impact on patients.
"I believe the concept of community capacity is good. It’s the direction we need to go in," Cansler said. "The implementation has been a real problem, and we’re going to really focus on that.”
Perdue said she has high expectations of Cansler but said she was realistic about what fixing problems at DHHS will involve.
"It's not going to happen overnight," she said. "You can't expect him to come in, wave a magic wand and fix all the challenges we have."
John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina, said he thinks Cansler will be a good fit for DHHS because of his background.
"Having been here in North Carolina, (having) been in the North Carolina General Assembly, (and having) seen how it works in other states from his outside business, I think this is an opportunity that should work," Tote said.
Before joining DHHS, Cansler represented Buncombe County in the state House for six years.
Lay has worked in finance and business management for 30 years, including positions with JPMorgan Chase and IBM before joining Bank of America.
Freeman was a city manager for 27 years before taking over the leadership of Triangle J in 2000. The agency assists local governments in planning, fiscal management and administration, and Freeman has overseen water resources, clean air, alternative energy and waste reduction initiatives.
Cobb has headed the Department of Administration since 2005 and was agriculture commissioner for two years before that.
Perdue also named Allen Feezor as deputy secretary of DHHS, Linda Struyk Millsaps as chief operating officer of the Department of Revenue and Eddie Speas as general counsel to the Governor's Office.
Feezor has more than 30 years of experience in health care, most recently heading a foundation that improves access to health care in rural and under-served areas. Millsaps has been assistant secretary for tax administration at the Department of Revenue. Speas worked in the Attorney General's Office for 32 years before becoming a partner at the Poyner & Spruill law firm in 2003.
The heads of six other state agencies were named on Friday and Monday.
For live inauguration coverage, log on to WRAL.com. Watch Perdue's swearing in beginning at 10 a.m. and the inaugural parade starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.