RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) will be getting a new top official after the Youngkin administration announced that commissioner Ellen Marie Hess “is no longer in the position.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration told WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, on Tuesday, Jan. 18 that Hess had been fired.
The spokesperson later said that they were “given incorrect information” and that while Hess is no longer in that position, the departure is not being labeled as a firing.
Now that Hess has been removed from her position as commissioner, it is still unclear who will be taking her place. The commissioner is the agency’s top official, Youngkin has not announced if any other officials such as the two deputy commissioners will be fired yet.
According to The Associated Press, Virginia’s new secretary of labor, George “Bryan” Slater will oversee the overhaul of the VEC. Youngkin announced on Jan. 6 that Slater had been tapped for the job. He previously served as the secretary of administration under former Gov. Jim Gilmore.
As Youngkin prepared himself to take office he made promises to overhaul the VEC. Throughout the pandemic, many Virginians reported issues filing for unemployment, some going extended periods of time without crucial income.
During Northam’s administration, the Legal Aid Justice Center and other groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the VEC after the employment commission struggled to settle jobless claims in a timely manner. The lawsuit was filed against Hess in federal court.
The state was prompted to make upgrades to the outdated and overwhelmed system.
Those upgrades were made in November 2021, but by late December, issues still persisted. Youngkin told WFXR’s sister station in an interview on Dec. 23, 2021 that he had plans to announce new leadership and improve customer service at VEC upon entering office.
“It is a lot more than just throwing money at it. We have got to redesign the system,” Youngkin said at the time. “This is a matter of resources but it’s also a matter of a broken process. It’s a matter of inadequate training for people that work at the VEC.”
It’s not just the VEC where leadership changes are being made. Hess is one of many people being fired as the new administration sets their priorities in the Commonwealth.
Youngkin gutted the Virginia Parole Board, bringing on an entirely new panel of members, including Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin.
Attorney General Jason Miyares announced personnel changes last week, before his term even started. Miyares fired 17 attorneys and 13 staff members — including Herring’s deputies and solicitor general.