Dome rumor: Deal forces ouster of mental health agency chief

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has allegedly forced the ouster of the state’s mental health services chief after a rocky tenure atop an infant department that saw numerous complaints of mismanagement and legislative inquiries into abnormally high bonuses.

The as yet unconfirmed rumors are swirling in the Capitol that the governor asked Dr. Frank Shelp, who became the first-ever Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities in 2009, to withdraw from his post after a Los Angeles Times investigation this week into a controversial psychologist that was awarded a multi-million million dollar, no-bid state contract.

Even as California was still coping with the controversial and costly ramifications of his bid to overhaul the Golden State’s public psychiatric hospitals, the state’s then-lead consultant, Dr. Nirbhay Singh, won a $3.5 million contract from Shelp to implement many of the same measures here.

Still, Shelp has been no stranger to controversy. He ran afoul of the Gold Dome in 2010 after an investigation by Athens Democratic Rep. Keith Heard revealed the agency had doled out 46 bonus in 2011 that exceeded the state’s normal procedures.

Request for comment from two Deal press officers went unanswered.

UPDATE: OUT WITH THE FRIDAY TRASH. The DPHBB’s press office is now circulating an abridged–all of two sentences–release announcing Shelp’s resignation. No reason is provided for the change in leadership.

“Today, Dr. Frank Shelp announced that effective August 10, he will resign from his position as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities,” the Friday afternoon release reads. “The Governor’s office will conduct a search to identify his replacement.”

UPDATE II: A response from Deal communications director Brian Robinson as brief as DBHDD’s statement just came across the transom. “The governor has received and accepted Commissioner Shelp’s resignation,” Robinson told the Tipsheet.

- James Richardson