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New Oklahoma Department of Human Services director Justin Brown speaks at the State Capitol on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. Also pictured are Gov. Kevin Stitt and Human Services Secretary Steve Buck. (Tres Savage)
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Gov. Kevin Stitt has named a new director for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services: Justin Brown, an OKC investment capitalist involved in senior assisted living projects across three states.

“I’m so thrilled that he’s willing to step aside from his private business to come serve our state. We are fortunate to have him,” Stitt said this morning at the State Capitol. “I always look for people who want to think big and want to think about the future. (…) When I interviewed Justin, I saw his talents. He has been very, very successful in the health care field.”

The CEO of Villagio Capital Partners and the registered agent for a half-dozen other entities like Hiawatha Capital, Brown said Tuesday he was transitioning to a board position with Villagio and was “not participatory anymore” in the other companies.

“I believe that the character of a state is evidenced by how we take care of our most vulnerable populations. And, candidly, our seniors are some of our most vulnerable,” Brown said.

Brown, 40, will replace DHS director Ed Lake who was appointed to run the large agency by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2012. Lake’s bio on the OKDHS website still lists Fallin as governor of Oklahoma.

“With offices in all 77 counties, DHS is the largest state agency with more than 7,000 employees and a $2.3 billion budget,” the DHS site says. “About [1 million] Oklahomans each year are touched daily by more than 40 state and federal human services programs administered by DHS.”

Stitt: Ed Lake ‘has done a tremendous job’

Lake has overseen dramatic reforms as DHS director, taking over months after the lawsuit-mandated Pinnacle Plan took effect in July 2012. The Pinnacle Plan stemmed from a class-action suit and has broadly restructured Oklahoma’s child welfare system, and Stitt said Tuesday that Oklahoma is making progress.

“We just got a report that we’ve got 29 of the 31 objectives moving in the right direction,” Stitt said. “Ed has done a tremendous job moving us forward and investing his time.”

Stitt and Brown said they met about five weeks ago, underscoring what Stitt called his responsibility to “recruit” talented and service-minded Oklahomans.

Brown said he initially was unsure about transitioning to full-time public service, saying he was “comfortable” in his private life.

“The transition team said, ‘If you have 1 percent interest in serving the state, we should talk again,'” Brown said. “I did. I took the bait.”

Stitt’s secretary of human services, Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs director Steve Buck, also praised Brown.

“I’m extremely excited in your expertise serving seniors,” Buck said.

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Brown’s company, Villagio, owns assisted living centers in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado that partially specialize in alzheimer’s care. In Oklahoma, Villagio manages a senior residence in the 14000 block of North Portland Avenue and Bradford Village in Edmond.

Multiple incorporations are registered to Brown at 2525 N.W. 112th St., the location of a former elementary school for which Hiawatha Capital has sought state and federal tax credits in advance of a proposed senior living facility.

Brown, who will start as DHS director June 17 and make the same salary as Lake, studied finance and accounting at Oklahoma State University, according to his Facebook page.

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