Commentary: Perdue's cabinet appointee raises concerns

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

North Carolina's governor has the right by law to choose those top state officials who make up the governor's cabinet. But those choices, not reviewed by the people, need to be thoroughly considered not only as to individual competence or experience, but with an eye toward maintaining the public confidence in a particular agency and the confidence of those who work for the agency.

With those factors in mind, Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue's selection of Lanier Cansler to lead the Department of Health and Human Services – an agency trying to come to grips with serious challenges in providing mental health care – raises some potentially troubling questions.

Cansler, who is a CPA, appears qualified for this difficult job on the basis of knowledge and skills. And there's no reason to wonder about his commitment to improving mental health. (The department's responsibilities also include public health, child care and the Medicaid program for the poor, among others).

As a Republican state legislator from Asheville in the mid- and late 1990s, Cansler demonstrated an interest in mental health issues. When he joined the Department of Health and Human Services in 2001, as deputy secretary, he was one of those who initiated reform of the state mental health care system, changes intended to move publicly provided services to private companies in communities. No one seems to have anticipated the fiasco that reform would become.

Then in 2005, Cansler left DHHS to start a consulting and lobbying firm using his government experience to help companies deal with the General Assembly. Among those companies were some that have won contracts with the department.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.