Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday announced seven key changes to his core staff, including new commissioners and the appointment of Elizabeth Miller as his chief of staff.
Miller, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, will grab the baton from Bill Lofy, as he leaves to work for the Democratic Governors Association. Lofy may end up rubbing shoulders with Shumlin yet, as the Green Mountain governor is expected to chair the association next year.
Shumlin indicated that his search for a new chief of staff boiled down to two candidates: Miller and Alex MacLean, one of Shumlin’s closest aides and his deputy chief of staff.
“Alex and I go way back, and I wouldn’t be here without Alex,” said Shumlin. “There is no one in state government that I rely on more than Alex MacLean.”
But MacLean had other thoughts, telling Shumlin she wants to leave the administration in the near future. The 30-year-old Northeast Kingdom native has worked in state government since soon after graduating from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and she wants to try her hand in the private sector. After the press conference, she told VTDigger that she is entertaining several offers but plans to remain in Vermont.
MacLean was Shumlin’s assistant when he was Senate president pro tempore; she managed both of his gubernatorial campaigns and she is the Vermont secretary of Civil and Military Affairs.
“It’s a decision that doesn’t thrill me,” Shumlin said about MacLean leaving. “My guess is we have not seen the last of Alex MacLean in the public sector … She will continue to be with us, hopefully through the legislative session.”
Shumlin said Miller — with far less political but far more legal experience than MacLean — was the other candidate he had in mind.
“Liz brings to the job her extraordinary intelligence, her commitment to Vermont and her ability to take complex challenges, synthesize them into short sentences and get them done,” he said at the press conference.
Miller entered the political realm for the first time in 2010, when Shumlin appointed her to be Vermont’s leading public advocate on energy issues. Before that, the Yale Law School graduate was a private attorney in Burlington.
“I was honored that he asked, and I was excited and delighted,” said Miller about the appointment. “I’m a legal and a policy person, and this will be stepping into a different role, but that’s also why I think it’s going to be really interesting and a challenge and something I’m excited about.”
Chris Recchia, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, will replace Miller as the new DPS commissioner. One of his first tasks leading up to the transition in January will be to help Miller find a replacement for Deputy Commissioner Sarah Hofmann, who will be leaving the department after almost two decades in Vermont government. Hofmann will continue to work with state officials in her new role as executive director of the New England Conference of Public Utility Commissioners.
Department of Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood announced that he is stepping down. Right now, the department is in the middle of overhauling the state’s mental health system, building new facilities and revamping standards and regulations.
“Patrick has comprehensively taken crisis management — which continues today, at this very moment, where we don’t have adequate facilities and adequate beds for people in need — and allowed us as a team to implement the first mental health delivery system in Vermont,” said Shumlin about the work Flood has done since Tropical Storm Irene.
Flood, who has served under the guidance of five different governors and eight different secretaries, will continue working for the state. But the governor isn’t sure what role the veteran official will take on. Shumlin also hinted that Flood might ease his way out of state government over the next few years to focus on fighting climate change.
In an interview after the press conference, Flood said that it’s time for a person with clinical mental health experience to run the Department of Mental Health. To find such a leader, Shumlin said that his administration would conduct a national search for a new commissioner. In meantime, Mary Moulton, Flood’s deputy commissioner, will take over as acting commissioner. She came to the department from Washington County Mental Health Services Inc., where she was the director of intensive care services.
Steve Kimbell, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, is also stepping down after a two-year run managing the government body formerly known as BISHCA. The governor said he persuaded Kimbell out of retirement, and Kimbell said he’s excited to return.
“I’m going to retire,” he said after the press conference. “I’m 68-and-a-half, even though I might not look it. I have a wonderful 120 acres in Tunbridge that when I retired the first time I planned to raise sheep on … and I intend to resume that and support my wife on the home front. But I’m going to see this job through until Inauguration Day.”
Kimbell’s deputy commissioner of insurance, Susan Donegan, will take over as commissioner of the department.
Shumlin capped off his heavy slate of appointments by announcing that Dixie Henry would take over as the new deputy secretary for the Agency of Human Services. That position has been vacant since Christine Oliver left the post to take over as CEO for Vermont Health CO-OP, the state health insurance cooperative that is currently seeking state licensure. Henry has served as a policy and legal adviser to the Department of Health and as a deputy commissioner of public health.
This story was updated at 6:15p.m., Nov. 13, with additional information.