Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but within weeks of our stories calling attention to key vacancies in his administration, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz came up with a candidate last week to head the county's largest department, Social Services, which had been led by a holdover-who wanted to leave for months.
Poloncarz said in a statement that he came up with Al Dirschberger as his nominee to head Social Services "following an interview process that included several good candidates," and Dirschberger was the best of the lot.
It will now be up to the county legislature to approve Dirschberger, the former head of Journey's End Refugee Services, to see if he is up to the task of overseeing an often volatile and controversial department that deals with the county's most vulnerable residents.
Poloncarz said Dirschberger, 51, "has a vast knowledge of the issues surrounding the delivery of social services," adding that "Professor Dirschberger 's career has been dedicated to being a staunch and caring advocate for children and families, as well as teaching the next generation of social science students the skills they will need to succeed in their careers."
Dirschberger, who is a teacher at Daeman College and ECC, if approved by the legislature will take over for Carol Dankert-Mauerer to lead a department that has often come under attack for its handling of cases involving children who died while their families were under investigation by Child Protective Services.
Dirschberger, who is already on the job, is expected to face some level of scrutiny by the Republican majority in the legislature who say they will deal with the Dirschberger nomination as soon as possible. That will begin with interviews of Dirschberger by the Health and Human Services Committee before any vote is conducted by the full legislature.
Key vacancies remain in the Poloncarz camp, including Mental Health-where Deborah Goldman serves as acting commissioner, and chief medical officer of the correctional facilities, two positions where leadership is extremely important in dealing with vulnerable residents and often volatile and incorrigible inmates.
Republicans say they will begin the interview process of Dirschberger soon and determine if his background equips him to head the Social Services Department going forward. Meanwhile, it is presumed the Poloncarz team is still at work looking for candidates to head Mental Health and corrections. Poloncarz had wanted to move Dankert-Maurer to Mental Health but withdrew her nomination after it became clear she might have trouble making it through the legislature. We'll keep you posted.