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Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to Retire at the End of This Month

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Mike Smith, Vermont’s secretary of Human Services, is retiring. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Mike Smith, a critical player in Vermont’s pandemic response and the state’s secretary of human services, is retiring at the end of the year. 

Deputy Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson will take over at Vermont’s largest state agency on an interim basis, the governor’s office announced Monday.

Smith, a veteran executive of state government and business once dubbed “the interim fixer-in-chief” in a Seven Days profile, previously served as the head of Human Services for a year during the Jim Douglas administration. He reprised this role in late 2019, just months before the pandemic would upend Vermont.

“Vermonters are very fortunate that Mike agreed to come back, because without him, we’d be in a much different place,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement. “Mike helped lead our world-renowned vaccination rollout, worked tirelessly with our health care providers to keep the system working, helped build our testing capacity and so much more.”

Smith, 68, is retiring from work and not moving on to another post elsewhere, Andrea DeLaBruere, executive director of the Agency of Human Services, confirmed. Smith was not available for an interview Monday.

Smith is the latest high-profile member of Scott’s cabinet to announce a retirement in recent months. Then-Secretary of Administration Susanne Young said earlier this fall she would step down in November.

A sprawling arm of state government, the Agency of Human Services includes six departments, 12 district offices and a network of community providers. Prisons, the Department of Health, the foster care system, child care oversight and the state’s mental health and disability services all fall within its jurisdiction.

But Smith’s top job was arguably as second-in-command in the state’s Covid-19 response, and his departure comes at a tenuous moment for the state. Once widely held up as a model for the nation, Vermont is now heading into end-of-year holidays at the same time as it shatters records for infections and hospitalizations.

In a statement, Smith acknowledged the awkward timing of his exit, saying he had informed Scott of his intention to retire during the summer, when he believed “we would be well on our way toward the endemic phase of this public health crisis.”

“The Delta variant has made our jobs a bit more difficult, but nonetheless, we have testing and vaccination programs that are the envy of the rest of the country and we have protected many Vermonters from the more serious outcomes of this virus,” he said.

Smith also served one two-year term in the Vermont House of Representatives in the late 1970s, elected as a Republican, and was deputy state treasurer from 1995 to 1999. In the private sector and state government, he developed a sort of specialty taking over troubled organizations — including FairPoint Communications and the now-defunct Burlington College — in attempts to turn them around.

Smith, a former Navy SEAL, earned a reputation as an always loyal lieutenant who got things done and did not mince words. 

“You knew something was going to get done when he was tasked with doing it,” said Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak, who worked alongside Smith on the state’s pandemic response. Whatever bureaucratic or logistical hurdle would present itself, Smith would cut through it.

“That certainly was always very welcomed, particularly in the pandemic, where you’re trying to move quickly to get things implemented,” Pieciak said.

But Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, faulted Smith for having little sympathy for state workers run ragged by a crisis now coming up on its two-year anniversary. 

“I’m hoping that, when the governor chooses his replacement, he’ll find somebody who has more human services experience and find someone who sees state employees as valuable assets — not just numbers in the machine,” Howard said.

Samuelson was appointed by Scott to her current role in June 2020. She was a key player in the state’s health reform efforts, and previously was deputy commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to retire at the end of this month.

Original Source: vtdigger.org

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