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Longtime DSS director retiring

Liston Smith, the director of the Henderson County Department of Social Services for the past 25 years, is retiring on July 31.

"I'm actually retiring in the sense that I been in government for 33 years, and DSS for 25," he said. "I'm retiring from the public sector and public service. I might go fishing for about 6 or 8 weeks. I need to take a little time to get over that."
A native of the South Carolina Low Country, Smith has led the social services agency through change and challenges. The times are no easier now, with cuts coming in public aid programs.
"It's been rough these last couple of years, and I think it's going to be rough for a while, particularly for state and federal programs," he said. "In the recession, food stamps doubled. What's nice is the last six months is the trend is going down. We've got 1,000 less people on food stamps than we had a year ago."
While the economy may be improving for the poor, other challenges lie ahead.
"The biggest challenge for the upcoming months is the Affordable Care Act," which Smith said will bring "the biggest change in Medicaid since I've been a director."
The state is not expanding its Medicaid rolls, as many states are. Medicaid recipients will be sent to county DSS offices to get help with health insurance exchanges.
"That's a challenge because that's a whole new program and that's going to require pretty sophisticated technology and big changes," he said.
Smith plans to explore an opportunity that a friend in private business offered him, setting up a philanthropic organization.
"Part of my reason for waiting for 33 years was that question, What am I going to do? I kept saying, I've got hobbies and I enjoy those. I'd like to see my brother more and I'd like to see my children more."
The DSS Board met Tuesday to begin the process of selecting a successor.
"It's going to be an opportunity for another great social services director because I think we gave a good record in terms of our staff," said chair Lee Luebbe. "I think it will be a very inviting position to a lot of people. I hope we can find a person as good as Liston has been."
Smith worked in schools in Forsyth County before he came to Hendersonville.
"It's time to leave now," he said. "Money isn't the issue with me retiring, I wasn't waiting for the finances. It's really the case I've been doing it so long I'm tired. Working with child abuse and neglect and some of those things, I'm just sort of ready to go to bed at night and not be worried about something that's happening in somebody's home."
Smith said it's tempting to think he could let it go when he walks out the door for the last time in three months. But "I'm going to worry about it," he said.
"I have enjoyed public service. I feel like it's meant something for me and I've made a difference. Part of me says, 'You're the captain of the boat, you can't leave,' but I'll never leave if I wait for things to settle down."