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Two legislators on fence as vote nears on likely confirmation of Dirschberger to head Social Services

At least two Erie County legislators remained on the fence Wednesday over whether they will vote to confirm County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s nominee for social services commissioner.

Though Al Dirschberger’s confirmation appears likely with bipartisan support when the Legislature meets Thursday, Buffalo Democrats Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams are being lobbied hard to not sign off on the nomination by some constituents. Those people have voiced grievances against Dirschberger and his former employer, Gateway-Longview, a nonprofit agency that provides special-education services to students with disabilities.

Dirschberger, 51, was a 27-year employee of Gateway-Longview who served as a vice president of the agency from 2002 until late last year.

“Right now, all I’m hearing are allegations,” Miller-Williams said Wednesday. “Nobody has given me anything definitive. For now, it’s not enough for me to vote against him.”

The opposition to Dirschberger’s nomination comes from members of an advisory board that was connected with Gateway-Longview’s Family Resource Center, which, until January, had been run out of the former Humboldt YMCA, 347 E. Ferry St.

The members allege discrimination against African-American employees, unfair firings and the squandering of program funds meant for the center that in turn thwarted community efforts to make the center a success.

“This is a very healing kind of holistic place we tried to make here, and the more successful we became, the more antagonistic, divisive and undermining they became,” advisory board member Valerie Akauola said, referring to Gateway-Longview management.

Members of the advisory board may meet Thursday with lawmakers about their concerns over the Dirschberger nomination. Miller-Williams said Wednesday that attempts were being made to have Dirschberger at that meeting.

Meanwhile, Grant said she is open to supporting Dirschberger’s confirmation.

“I’m leaning towards support unless I hear something more concrete than what I’ve been given,” Grant said. “You can’t jeopardize a person’s future based on hearsay or allegations.”

During Dirschberger’s interview with lawmakers at last week’s Health and Human Services Committee, Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, raised several concerns about his readiness to run a department with about 1,600 employees and upward of a $400 million annual budget.

On Wednesday, however, Lorigo said he was poised to confirm Poloncarz’s nominee to take on the troubled department.

Dirschberger is “going to come with additional scrutiny only because (Social Services) is the largest department the county has and oversees its most vulnerable population,” Lorigo said.

“In reviewing Dr. Dirschberger’s résumé, he seems to be very qualified for the position. Some of the concerns I had with his commitment to Journey’s End and leaving so quickly, he answered those questions satisfactorily,” Lorigo added.

In January, Dirschberger took over as executive director of Journey’s End Refugee Services and left the position two months later when he was nominated by Poloncarz to head the county’s Department of Social Services.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com