Gov. Pete Ricketts has appointed a woman with at least 20 years' experience in human services leadership to replace Courtney Phillips as chief operating officer of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Dannette R. Smith, 61, has directed the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Human Services Department since July 2013. She was also the City of Seattle director of the Department of Human Services for three years and director of youth and family services for Mecklenburg County in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area from 2001 to 2007. 

In Virginia Beach, she oversaw an eight-member executive team, a staff of 1,600 and a $121 million budget. 

Nebraska HHS is the largest department in state government, with 4,600 employees and a $3.5 billion budget. Smith will oversee five divisions: behavioral health, children and family services, developmental disabilities, Medicaid and long-term care, and public health, as well as agency operations.

She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and has a bachelor of science degree in psychology. She has a master's of social work degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to her resume. 

Ricketts said in a news release he was looking for a customer-oriented leader for the agency. 

“Dannette is the customer-oriented, results-driven leader Nebraska needs for the Department of Health and Human Services,” Ricketts said. “Her focus on measurable results and experience with strategic planning will build on the great work the agency has been doing to deliver a higher level of service."

In Virginia Beach, she presented public policy, program initiatives and fiscal management strategies to the city manager and city council. She combined behavioral health and developmental services with the department of social services to enhance service delivery. She also developed a coordinated health care system for children entering the child welfare system. 

And she collaborated with law enforcement to provide a first responder approach to community behavioral health services, Ricketts said. 

In Virginia, Smith is a member of the board of directors for the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children, the Hampton Roads Early Childhood Initiative Minus 9-5, Bringing an End to All City Homelessness and Women Invested in Social Change. 

She will begin work Feb. 25 and will be paid $220,000 annually. 

Phillips left the position in October. 


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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.