My Opposition to A Human Services Director

Human services are a vitally important function of county government. It is our primary responsibility. My commitment runs deep professionally and personally. That’s why I opposed my colleagues’ decision to create a new Human Services Director. It robs money from critical programs to fund an unnecessary job.

The following is a letter I sent to the Tribune-Review following an article it published in the wake of their decision…

Your article about Westmoreland County hiring a new highly-paid human services director gave short shrift to my opposition. Even putting aside the rampant hypocrisy of my Republican colleagues, who claim to want to cut costs but keep recklessly spending public money, creating this job is wrong.

The public should not be expected to foot the bill for lucrative executive positions when there was no attempt to improve human services coordination in-house with existing staff. Creating new layers of bureaucracy should be the last resort.

Further, the last-minute decision to pay for the position using money from the natural gas impact fee should not soften criticism. This money was designed to fund much-needed infrastructure projects, public safety improvements and more, not pay six-figure executives.

There is no bigger champion of human services than me. Thousands of vulnerable people rely on county services for their well-being and safety. Robbing the impact fee fund to create high-paying government jobs will do nothing to help them.

As we know, funding for human services programs is overwhelmingly funded by state money, and in the last state budget funding was slashed by 10 percent. So in response to less money for programs, providers that haven’t had an increase in years and a greater demand for services, my colleagues response is to add to the administration? It doesn’t make sense.

Commissioners Anderson and Courtney are trying to sell this bill of goods by claiming that this new position will streamline services, save money in the long run, etc. There are two problems with this thinking: 1.) no one – including Anderson and Courtney, our department heads, or the candidates who interviewed – can identify any areas of overlap; and 2.) there was no attempt to work in-house to identify areas for improvement.

Honestly, throughout the interview process, everyone kept asking one another what this position should do!

I am interested in any good idea to save a dollar, or maximize a dollar, to improve services. My idea took a much more measured approach. I had proposed establishing a council of human service department heads (Aging, Behavioral Health, Children’s Bureau, Drug and Alcohol, etc.) to meet formally and regularly (with the commissioners present as well) to identify potential areas for improvement and service coordination. If we find areas to improve, by all means let’s do it. If we find areas that need improvement, but can’t do it because of miscommunication or we don’t have a point person “in charge”, then – and only then – do we hire someone. We owe it to the taxpayers who pay the bills to work through a potential problem ourselves before taking the easy way out and simply throwing a high-paid person at it.

It is difficult for me to understand what is really driving this decision by my colleagues. Is it just the desire to do something different? Is it a manifestation of their belief in an executive top-down approach? But given that I cannot get either of them to sign on to any efforts to lobby the state for increased funding for our most vulnerable, I find it hard to believe that they are really serious about improving services.