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Poloncarz withdraws Dankert-Maurer as head of mental health

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has withdrawn his appointment of Carol Dankert-Maurer as commissioner of the Erie County Department of Mental Health, according to a letter released by Erie County Legislature Chairman John Mills.

Dankert-Maurer, who had faced much criticism on her performance as the county’s commissioner of social services, was interviewed by legislators on the Health and Human Services Committee last week about her qualifications to lead the Mental Health Department. The appointment required approval of the Legislature to become permanent.

According to Mills, the Legislature was notified by Poloncarz late Monday morning that he is withdrawing Dankert-Maurer’s name for the post. Until Monday, Poloncarz had remained steadfast in his support for Dankert-Maurer, and no reason was given in his letter for withdrawing her name.

The committee members who interviewed Dankert-Maurer last week had delayed making a recommendation on whether to confirm her in the new role as head of Mental Health. The Legislature had scheduled a vote on the confirmation for Thursday.

Dankert-Maurer, an appointee of former County Executive Chris Collins, had notified Poloncarz late last summer that she would not seek reappointment to Social Services when her five-year term ended on Dec. 31. The county began advertising for applicants for the social services position in August.

In September, Ellery Reaves resigned as head of the Mental Health Department, leaving that position vacant.

Earlier this month, Poloncarz revealed that Dankert-Maurer was his choice to head the Mental Health Department. Poloncarz also said that Dankert-Maurer would run both departments on an interim basis while the search continued for a new head of Social Services.

Dankert-Maurer’s leadership at Social Services had been heavily criticized following the deaths of three boys who were already known to the Child Protective Services arm of her department. Jacob T. Noe, 8, was stabbed to death by his mother in May after CPS workers who investigated the family didn’t remove the boy from the home. Eain Clayton Brooks, 5, was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend in September 2013 after his grandmother had told CPS she thought the boy was in danger. And Abdifatah “Abdi” Mohamud, 10, had called for help himself about his fear of his stepfather. Abdi died in April 2012, when the stepfather beat him more than 70 times with a baker’s hardwood rolling pin.

In response to outcries over the deaths, the county restructured the department and eventually hired 37 additional CPS workers and 12 part-time investigators.

Last week, when legislators questioned Dankert-Maurer’s qualifications to move to the Mental Health position, she said her current job made her well-aware of the issues faced by the new department.

“Over the last 30 years, I’ve worked with mental health in a lot of different ways,” Dankert-Maurer said Thursday. “As you can imagine, most of the folks that we deal with (in social services) are in multiple systems. So, many of our recipients are, in fact, also involved with the mental health system.”

The Department of Social Services is the county’s largest, with close to a $600 million budget, more than 1,000 contractors and 1,500 employees. The Department of Mental Health has 43 employees, most of whom are assigned to the county Holding Center, according to Dankert-Maurer.

In his press release, Mills said he thought most legislators were pleased that Poloncarz had withdrawn Dankert-Maurer’s appointment, and he called her “previous failures” in Social Services “alarming.”

Mills added, “We firmly believe that we can do better than this recommendation, and should increase the scope of our search to find a qualified candidate.”

A spokesman for the county executive said he would have no further comment on the reasons he withdrew the nomination.

News staff reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report.