Jennifer Nichols, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. (Photo: tn.gov)
Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols has been replaced — the latest among Gov. Bill Lee’s cabinet to leave state government.
Nichols’ tenure — Lee appointed her to the job in 2019 — was marked by controversies that included a Tennessee Lookout report last year of children sleeping in state office buildings and news coverage this year of dissatisfaction, vacancies and high turnover among caseworkers tasked with aiding Tennessee children who have been abused or neglected.
In recent months, News Channel 5 has broadcast a series of critical reports about the inner workings of the agency, including complaints from state lawmakers, foster parents and caseworkers.
Nichols’ replacement is Margie Quin, currently the chief executive officer of End Slavery Tennessee, a nonprofit that combats human trafficking. Like Nichols — a former prosecutor — Quin also has a law enforcement background. For two decades, Quin served as a special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
A news release from the governor’s office announcing the leadership changes did not detail the circumstances of Nichols’ departure, and an agency spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether she had resigned, retired or been terminated from the position, where she earned $174,000 annually.
Quin assumes her new position in September, but it is not immediately known if Nichols will remain in her job until then. Nichols’ chief of staff, Jennifer Donnals, previously stepped down in April.
The announcement of Nichols’ departure follows other recent exits from the governor’s inner leadership circle, ahead of the November state gubernatorial election.
Among them are former Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, who stepped down in May, and Bob Rolfe, who stepped down as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development effective July 11. In June, former legislator Jim Bryson replaced Butch Eley as commissioner of finance and administration after Eley was named deputy governor.
Lee, quoted in a Friday news release, said: “Jennifer (Nichols) is a committed public servant who has faithfully served Tennesseans since the beginning of my administration, and her leadership has been crucial in our work to ensure every child in our state has a loving, permanent home.”
“As we continue these efforts, I am confident that Margie’s experience in both the nonprofit and law enforcement sectors will benefit Tennessee children and their families.”
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