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Poloncarz’s social services pick to meet with Legislature panel Thursday

It could be an uphill battle for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s nominee for social services commissioner as he seeks to be confirmed by the Legislature to head the county’s largest department.

Al Dirschberger, who last week was announced as Poloncarz’s nominee to succeed Carol Dankert-Maurer as commissioner, is to appear at 10 a.m. Thursday before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, when lawmakers will question him on his qualifications and ability to lead a department which has been through very public travails.

Several in the Legislature have said they do not know much at all about Dirschberger. The administration on Wednesday did, however make him available for a brief informal meeting with members of the Legislature’s Democratic minority. Legislator Patrick B. Burke, D-Buffalo, was one of three lawmakers to attend the “meet-and-greet,” along with Legislators Barbara Miller-Williams and Peter J. Savage III, both of them Buffalo Democrats.

At the informal meeting, Burke observed that Dirschberger was “someone who seemed to have a vision” for the department. Burke added, “Still, I have some concerns, but we’ll see how that process plays out (Thursday).”

Dirschberger has been a supervisor and administrator in child care services for nearly 30 years, nearly all of it at a nonprofit organization, Gateway-Longview. In 2002, Dirschberger became vice president of the agency, managing a $10 million annual budget.

In January, he took the helm of Journey’s End Refugee Services, a much smaller agency with a $3.5 million budget, before making the leap to the Department of Social Services, with an annual budget of about $400 million.

“I’m not sure if he has any managerial experience in terms of running a large group of people,” said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-Hamburg.

Meanwhile, members of an informal advisory board at Gateway-Longview’s Family Resource Center at 347 E. Ferry St. on Tuesday forwarded an email to lawmakers urging them to reject Dirschberger’s appointment over a list of grievances the board members have with Gateway-Longview management.

Dirschberger said he was aware of the email. “I’m aware that there is a group and it revolves around the Family Resource Center and the closing of the Family Resource Center, but there is a lot of misinformation about the closing of the resource center,” he said.