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Delaying the recruitment of a DSS director was smart move

From Mecklenburg County commissioner Dumont Clarke, in response to “Cotham: Delay in DSS hunt ‘bizarre’” (March 14):

Although expressing my views on the Opinion page will certainly not draw the public attention that our Chairman’s views on this same topic received in a story above the fold on the front page of the Charlotte Observer, I believe the county manager’s and his senior staffs’ decision to wait until recently to undertake the effort to recruit a new director of the county’s Department of Social Services reflects wise and sound judgment. Rather than thinking their decision was “bizarre,” I strongly support their decision and have reason to believe that a number of other commissioners do as well.

I do not believe the county would have been able to attract the same caliber of candidates for potential appointment as the new DSS director if the manager and his senior staff had rushed out to recruit and hire a new DSS director immediately upon the heels of the contentious and highly publicized circumstances of the departure last September of our previous DSS director. The circumstances surrounding that departure resulted in considerable turmoil and conflict among DSS employees and among the members of the county commission itself, and we needed an interim period to allow that turmoil to begin to subside.

We needed that extended period of interim management by a small, relatively anonymous group of experienced, competent senior managers at DSS – working calmly and collaboratively on issues with oversight by county general manager Michelle Lancaster – to insure that we will be able to achieve two important goals: attract a large pool of highly qualified applicants for the position and insure that the new DSS director will be assuming the helm of a somewhat righted ship in calmer waters.

This extended period will also give DSS employees who had developed intense loyalty to the former director time to adjust their perspectives and allow those feelings of loyalty to begin to dissipate. Consequently, I expect all DSS employees will be more accepting of and willing to embrace new leadership when the manager does recruit and hire a new DSS director.

None of this is to say that a new DSS director will not face challenges when she or he takes the reins. DSS is a large and complex department of Mecklenburg government that provides a variety of critical human services. Intervening in the lives of families to protect their children from neglect and abuse is no easy task. DSS employees need to get it as right as frail and imperfect human beings possibly can.

I know employees of DSS who work in that area are passionate about what they do and have high expectations for their performance that probably exceeds ours for them. They need and deserve a leader at DSS who will hold them to and help them meet those standards.

Those of us who have been on the board for a while know all too well from painful and difficult past experiences that the DSS director position, no matter who is in it, is a lightning rod in good times and bad. Not having a lightning rod in place there for the last six months has been a plus for DSS employees, county management and, yes, the Board of County Commissioners.

That is not to say that the position will not become a lightning rod again, but that a period of six to nine months of relative calm before filling the position is not a bad thing at all, and certainly not “bizarre” or “peculiar.”

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