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County Legislature approves Dirschberger as head of social services

The Erie County Legislature Thursday unanimously confirmed Al Dirschberger as commissioner of social services.

Dirschberger was nominated two weeks ago by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to succeed Carol Dankert-Maurer. While his eventual confirmation by the Legislature was never seriously in doubt, up until Thursday morning, Buffalo Democrats Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams were being lobbied by some constituents to not sign off on the appointment.

At Grant’s request, Dirschberger Thursday morning agreed to meet with her, Miller-Williams, Legislator Patrick B. Burke, D-Buffalo, and members of the Gateway-Longview’s Family Resource Center advisory board to address the group’s grievances and attempt to resolve them.

“We did not come to a resolution, but agreed to meet further to get some of the concerns allayed,” Grant said. “I think much of the information out there was misdirected and misinformation, and some of it was hearsay.”

Among the group’s grievances was the closing in January of the Family Resource Center, which was run out of the former Humboldt YMCA, 347 E. Ferry St. The closing occurred after Dirschberger was no longer employed at Gateway-Longview, a nonprofit agency that provides special-education services to students with disabilities.

“Mr. Dirschberger is going to meet with the advisory group and going forward, see what we can do to make sure ... when it reopens, it has the community’s support and the programming needed to make that a viable area,” Grant said.

Meanwhile, now that he is confirmed Dirschberger is tasked with running the county’s largest department, which has come under severe criticism in recent years for the deaths of children whose families had contact with the department’s Child Protective Services division

“This has been a long process and it’s been evident for quite some time that change has been needed in the Department of Social Services,” said Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, an Independence Party member from Hamburg who chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“In our conversations with Dr. Dirschberger, he has indicated that he will be responsive and that he will come to Health and Human Services Committee meetings monthly to provide us updates on some of the progress that’s being made. I remain hopeful that will indeed be the case,” Dixon said.

Dirschberger has been a supervisor and administrator in child care services for 27 years at Gateway-Longview where, in 2002, he became vice president of the agency, managing a $10 million annual budget. His appointment as social services commissioner is for five years.