McKee names cabinet picks for DHS, DBR

By: - April 25, 2023 2:50 pm

Gov. Dan McKee nominated Elizabeth Dwyer, left, to lead the Department of Business Regulation and Kimberly Merolla-Brito, right, to become the permanent director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. Brito had been interim director since last August. (Photos courtesy of Office of Gov. Dan McKee)

Gov. Dan McKee named his picks Tuesday to fill key state cabinet positions related to social and business services. 

McKee’s nominations, which must be approved by the Rhode Island Senate, would put permanent leaders in charge of the Department of Human Services and Department of Business Regulation, both of which have gone without designated cabinet directors for one or multiple years.

McKee’s pick for DHS, Kimberly Merolla-Brito, comes more than two years after the department’s last director, Courtney Hawkins, resigned. Merolla-Brito was named interim DHS director in August, making her the third temporary leader to take the helm since Hawkins left.

“From the moment she ascended to the role of Director of DHS, Kimberly Merolla-Brito has been an asset for each and every Rhode Islander,” McKee said in a statement. 

The governor went on to tout Merolla-Brito’s 23 years of state service experience, including as the department’s former deputy director for policy and operations. DHS is an agency within the Rhode Island Executive Office of Human Services serving more than 300,000 people per year through programs ranging from child care provider licensing to state Medicaid and financial and employment assistance for low-income families. 

Merolla-Brito has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in social work from Rhode Island College.

New director of DCYF nominated by Gov. McKee

McKee also nominated Elizabeth Dwyer as DBR director. Dwyer has served as interim director since July, after former leader Elizabeth Tanner left to become head of Rhode Island Commerce Corp.

Dwyer has worked for DBR for more than 20 years, starting as general counsel to its insurance division before ascending to associate, then deputy director. She holds degrees from Providence College and Pepperdine University School of Law. 

“Beth Dwyer has the experience and leadership to be a voice and advocate for Rhode Island’s business and consumer community,” McKee said. “She is a strong supporter of streamlining operations to make owning and operating a business in Rhode Island more efficient, and I am confident that as permanent director, she will continue to build on our state’s ongoing economic momentum.”

Rise of the acting director

During McKee’s time as governor, the state has seen rapid turnover – and prolonged vacancies – among cabinet and other high-ranking administrator jobs.

Last month, James Thorsen, the Department of Administration director, announced plans to return to Washington to work for the U.S. Department of Treasury, leaving Brian Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to fill in for Thorsen during the final throes of the state’s fiscal 2024 budget considerations.

Earlier this year, Housing Secretary Josh Saal resigned amid scrutiny over his perceived lack of action to spend state stimulus funds earmarked for housing programs. While Saal’s position has already been filled by former Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, other top roles remain vacant, particularly those within health and human services.

The Rhode Island Department of Health, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families have all been led by acting directors for one or multiple years, though McKee named appointee Ashley Deckert to head up DCYF last week.

The Senate has not yet scheduled its votes on McKee’s nominations as of Tuesday.


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.