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Suffolk Social Services commissioner retires

Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass. (Undated)

Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass. (Undated) (Credit: Handout)

Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory J. Blass capped off a six-year tenure with a retirement ceremony Wednesday in which legislators, employees and community activists lauded him for boosting morale and steering the department through the challenges of the recession.

“He brought humanity to the office,” said Tom Sartain, bureau chief of family services for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County.

Blass, whose 35 years in public service include serving as a county legislator and as a Suffolk County Family Court judge, has served as head of the county’s largest department for the past 3 1/2 years, directing a department with a $642 million budget serving 200,000 people. He previously served as deputy commissioner for 2 1/2 years. Earlier in the month, he announced he was retiring from his post 17 months before his 5-year term expired.

“The success of this department really depends on morale,” Blass told dozens of DSS employees gathered at the department’s Ronkonkoma office.

Blass presided over the department as the recession and lagging economic recovery led to dramatic increases in the number of food stamps and public assistance requests.

“He never ducked, never ran away from, never hid from an issue or any of the tough questions,” said Legis. John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

Blass said his post-retirement plans include writing a book on public service, teaching and working on a website related to family issues.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said deputy commissioner John O’Neill will serve as acting commissioner, but a decision has not been reached about a permanent replacement.

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