Lebanon  Department Drops to Zero

City’s Human Services Director On Leave While Fill-in Sought

Lebanon — The number of employees working in the city’s Human Services department has shrunk from one to zero.

Lebanon residents in need of financial assistance or social services might have noticed in recent weeks a sign posted on the door of the Human Services office, which has been temporarily closed with the department’s former director on indefinite leave. The notice at the Hanover Street office directs those seeking assistance to the city manager’s office in City Hall, which has handled the shuttered department’s operations since late February.

“We are holding our own, and people are being served,” said City Manager Greg Lewis yesterday. “Nobody is going without.”

According to Lewis, Shannon Hastings-Fox — the department’s former director — requested what he described as a “indefinite medical leave” on Feb. 22 and “went out on leave” that same day. The Valley News obtained a copy of an email sent by Lewis a week ago that was addressed to various local businesses and nonprofit agencies, stating that the city was seeking a temporary director for the department.

“We’ve received applicants and it goes through the ... hiring process,” Lewis said. “That takes some time, but we’re doing quite well in terms of meeting with the people.”

Lewis said that the services provided by the department have not been reduced, and that the city manager’s office has been responding to both walk-in appointments and those made in advance.

Some city councilors raised concerns in November about the department’s direction. Hastings-Fox was the lone Human Services employee at the time, and an unfilled assistant director’s position was eliminated in this year’s budget.

The Human Services department budget for 2013 totals $463,150, an 11.7 percent — or $61,420 — reduction from the 2012 budget. The decrease in spending reflects the elimination of the assistant director’s position and a reduction of $23,700 from direct assistance funding.

In the 2011 city budget, only $20,581 was spent on direct assistance to the needy out of the $101,700 set aside for that purpose. Given that the department was relying on outside agencies, city councilors last fall questioned whether too much of the burden was being shifted to the outside nonprofit social services agencies. Their funding from the city had been cut by 10 percent — or $36,790 — in the 2012 budget. Those funding levels remained flat in the 2013 budget, which was adopted late last year.

Messages left for Hastings-Fox yesterday were not returned.

The department’s operations have remained unchanged, according to Lewis, who said that his office is following the same guidelines for direct assistance vouchers and seeing roughly the same number of clients — anywhere from five to 10 a week. Under Hastings-Fox, the Human Services office was required to be kept open for walk-in hours from 9 to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday.

“Everything’s the same, we’ve just put our office into that role,” said Lewis.

Much of the responsibility has been handed down to Paula Maville — executive assistant to the city manager — whose mother ran the department for nearly 30 years until 2007.

Maville said that she worked for about four years on a part-time basis with her mother in that time, an experience that has made assuming the responsibilities of the department an easier transition.

“I’m back to where I was a few years ago,” she said.

When asked if things at the department were going smoothly despite the numerous other responsibilities she is tasked with, Maville said, “As well as they can right now, yes.”

Lewis said that Maville has “stepped up to the plate for us,” but also conceded that the department was handling several matters at once. He added that he oversaw Human Services operations in his previous position as county manager in Niagara County, N.Y.

“I’m very familiar with the area, so it makes for a good solution for us,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll get a temporary employee.”

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill yesterday said that the council has been kept aware of the changes in the department, and added that she has been pleased with Lewis’ response to the department’s personnel issues.

Despite being one of three city councilors who raised concerns about Human Services in November, Liot Hill said she believes the right steps are being taken to deal with the department’s issues.

“I have faith that the city manager is working on the situation and that it is moving in a good direction,” she said.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.