Human Services vacancy opportunity for progress

By the Herald editorial staff

The director of the Benton-Franklin Department of Human Services resigned recently without much fanfare.

Carrie Huie-Pascua submitted her letter of resignation to county commissioners but did not state a reason for her departure.

Conspiracy theorists may be inclined to read between the lines. Huie-Pascua has been a lightning rod for controversy during her three-year tenure.

The resignation came a week after her performance evaluation by Benton and Franklin county commissioners, raising questions about the timing, especially with her contract set to expire the following week.

She then promptly disappeared without answering media inquiries, and her staff said she'd be gone for several days.

While the reasons may be murky at this point, at least one commissioner said Huie-Pascua's resignation was not requested. Whatever happened, it opens the door for the vitally important department to find new leadership.

The department administers Benton and Franklin counties' core programs for human services, including crisis response, services for people with mental health issues and those with developmental disabilities.

While the department oversees the programs, most of the services are provided by contractors or nonprofit groups.

Before becoming director of the Department of Human Services, Huie-Pascua worked at one of those organizations, leading Community Health Center La Clinica's Nueva Esperanza, a mental health clinic.

That name may sound familiar -- county commissioners recently learned that the Human Services Department had been overcharged for services provided by Nueva Esperanza. La Clinica was forced to reimburse the department about $500,000.

Both sets of county commissioners need to view the job opening as an opportunity to do better for the people served by the department.

These members of our community often are at their most vulnerable when they turn to Human Services for help. They require -- and deserve -- proper care and handling by the publicly funded system.

County commissioners need to engage the mental health community in drafting a clear vision for meeting those needs.

Then they'll need to take time to ensure the next director shares the goals and has the skills needed to help achieve them.

Filling this key position is an important task. Every effort should be made to do it right.