Local chosen to head state agency

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Gov. Phil Bryant has nominated a Brookhaven man as the new director for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which faces federal court scrutiny over its handling of foster care cases.

Bryant said Monday that Brookhaven’s John Davis will become director after Rickey Berry retires Jan. 31.

Davis has been deputy director under Berry the past four years. The state Senate must confirm him in the top job.

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A news release from Bryant’s office said Davis has 24 years experience in Human Services. He is a former director of the Lincoln County Department of Human Services.

“It is such an honor to serve the citizens of Mississippi in this role at the Mississippi Department of Human Services,” Davis said in the release. “I also understand the tremendous responsibility, and I will be fully committed to this assignment. My life has been dedicated to serving others, and I believe this is a great opportunity to continue that work.”

Davis is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He earned his Master of Science in leadership from Belhaven University. He is a resident of Brookhaven where he and his family attend Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.

“John’s experience and qualifications will serve the people of Mississippi well in his new role,” Bryant said. “He understands the critical functions MDHS performs, and I appreciate him accepting this appointment.”

Bryant’s announcement of a new Human Services director comes several days after a court-appointed monitor issued a report saying Mississippi’s child welfare system, under the department, had continued to deteriorate.

The report, by court-appointed monitor Grace Lopes, covered the year that ended June 30. It was the second in a row to find the state is backsliding in efforts to meet settlement obligations in a long-running Olivia Y federal lawsuit. The case is named after a then-young girl — one of eight children who lawyers said had been abused because of the state’s failures.

Performance declined in all but one of 13 regions, and none met even half the 19 standards.

In December, Bryant named former state Supreme Court Justice David Chandler to lead the Division of Family and Children’s Services. The governor ordered the unit of the Department of Human Services to report directly to him.