New London creates new human services director position
New London — The City Council on Tuesday approved the creation of the new position of director of human services, a cabinet-level position to be appointed by Mayor Michael Passero.
The new director will be responsible for oversight and coordination of the host of nonprofit human services agencies that collectively fill the void left when the City Council eliminated the city’s social services department in 2005.
The nonprofits, such as the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, now handle issues involving everything from homelessness and hunger to veterans’ affairs and substance abuse issues.
The new director also will serve as the municipal agent for the elderly and direct and oversee all initiatives and responsibilities of the Senior Center — duties that now fall under the auspices of the city’s Recreation Department.
Passero said he expects the new director to address not only social services issues, but topics that involve quality of life, economic development and public safety.
He specifically pointed to the strain on police and fire departments responding to cases involving mental health or substance abuse issues.
“They will manage a whole array of our human services issues that do not directly fall under any existing department,” Passero said.
Job qualifications, along with a college degree and driver’s license, include at least 10 years of human services or public administration experience and five years as a director of an agency.
Longtime former city employee Marie Gravell, who worked for the city’s social services department from 1971 until it closed, applauded the decision to create the position.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Gravell said. “There is a great need.”
The City Council in 2010 funded the position of social services coordinator, a position Passero said encompassed fewer duties than the new one.
The city at that time had hired Peter Schultheis, the former director of Youth and Family Services in Norwich.
The position did not survive subsequent budget cuts.
Passero said the new hiring will not impact the current budget but will be included in next year’s budget when the salary for the position, in the $100,000 range, is calculated in.
The City Council voted 5 to 1 on the creation of the position. Councilman Don Venditto was absent.
Councilman John Satti voted against it and said he preferred that the position be posted and open to all applicants to ensure “the most qualified person is hired.”
“I understand and I agree with the need for a coordinator in our city,” Satti said, “but I would hope, if in fact you’re going to create a position, we are going to post that position … Everybody should have an opportunity to apply.”
Passero said it was “an executive-level position … it’s not a civil service hire.”
Department heads are appointed by the mayor.
“There’s a big difference,” Passero said.
He said the hire will fulfill part of a campaign promise to taxpayers that he would hire professionals to lead city departments.