Norwich Human Services director to depart, will stay through transition
Norwich — Tara Booker, who took the helm as director of Norwich Human Services in December, will cut back to part-time next week and plans to resign altogether once the city finds a successor.
That might not be so easy, as Booker’s predecessor, Lee-Ann Gomes, delayed her retirement twice during her final two years as the city struggled to find her replacement amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The department was at the forefront of the city’s response to the crisis. Gomes had worked for the agency for 36 years, the last seven as director after succeeding previous longtime director Beverly Goulet.
Starting next week, Booker will work part-time in Norwich awaiting a transition. No departure date has been set. The city has advertised the position, with applications due Aug. 4. The salary is posted as a range from $96,230 to $103,796, with applicants required to have a master’s degree and seven years of recent “progressively responsible” human services administrative experience, including five years in supervision roles.
Booker, 49, of New London said Tuesday that the position just is not the right fit for her. She had hoped to concentrate on “the big picture,” dealing more with management and policy and system decisions. Instead, she ended up with a more hands-on role, supervising all 150 client cases, with the department also having a three-week waitlist for new clients.
“It’s great but not my focus,” Booker said. “I was very much enjoying the systems and policy work I was doing.”
Booker said she plans to do some contracted and consulting work, along with the part-time Norwich position through the transition.
“I love the city, and I love my team. It’s such a good staff,” Booker said. “I definitely want to support everything to the best of my abilities.”
Booker was hired in Norwich after spending the last decade working in the Sarasota/Manatee area of Florida on public/private collaborations involving initiatives, systems and services for the community.
City Manager John Salomone called Booker’s departure “a personal decision on her part,” not a reflection on her performance during the first six months.
“She’s doing a fine job,” Salomone said.
On Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to approve using $180,593 in federal American Rescue Plan Act grant money to hire a two-year human services manager to oversee the millions of dollars in pandemic response grants the agency has received through ARPA and other programs.
That position is expected to be temporary to run through the ARPA grant funding period. Booker applauded the decision and said it is critical to the department that is receiving “more money than ever” to recover from COVID-19 impacts, for everything from rent, utilities and food assistance to job training, mental health services and youth recreation programs.
Norwich Human Services encompasses four divisions: Adult Services, the Rose City Senior Center, Recreation Department and Youth and Family Services. It has 29 employees.
Booker said the position has “a very large workload.” She regretted she was not able to get out into the community more often.
“I think I’ve been criticized a bit for not getting into the community,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t want to get out into the community. It’s just I can’t get out of the office.”
Coming in on the heels of two longtime department managers — she called Gomes “a legend” — Booker said she was aware of the challenge such a management change would bring.
“It’s not uncommon for the person that comes in after a long-standing leader to end up being a shorter term, transition manager,” Booker said. “People naturally don’t like change, so it’s an especially taxing role to play in an organization. I have experience in change management, and I was well aware of the challenges coming into this position. I do feel like I’ve shouldered the hard part and created some great opportunities for the new director to build from.”