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Bellone yet to name social services chief

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at the Suffolk County Legislature building. (Feb. 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Four months after Suffolk's social services commissioner stepped down from running the county's second largest department, County Executive Steve Bellone has yet to name a successor and is drawing criticism from lawmakers who say the department's leadership should not be left in limbo.

Bellone has reviewed some 200 resumes and interviewed 12 candidates since Commissioner Gregory J. Blass retired on Jan 30. Still, Bellone is "keeping the interview process open," said his spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

"When you're seeking to approve someone to a five-year term, an extra level of diligence and consideration must go into the selection," she said, noting that Bellone has received applications from as far away as Seattle.

But, the heads of the county legislature's Human Services committee said Bellone should act more quickly to provide steady leadership for the department of 1,600 employees.

"After four months it would be nice to know where they are in the process of establishing who their nominee is going to be to lead the second-largest department," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), chairman of the Human Services committee.

"I don't know where they are in the interview process, but . . . I'm certain that the legislature as a whole would like to get this behind us and have a commissioner in place so that the department knows who is leading it," Gregory said.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), the committee's vice chairwoman, said she would like the appointment to come within the next month. That's so the nominee, who will face approval by the legislature, can be involved in planning for next year's budget.

Browning said she is supporting acting Commissioner John O'Neill's bid to fill the post full-term.

O'Neill, who served as Blass' deputy and has run the department since he left, said he interviewed for the post in April but was unaware of the time frame to fill the position.

Baird-Streeter said O'Neill is "well-qualified to run the department, which is allowing the administration the necessary time to conduct a thorough search for a permanent commissioner."

Gwen O'Shea, executive director of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, an umbrella group for nonprofits, said while the group wanted "to see the role get filled soon," she understood Bellone's need for "due diligence."

"It's not an easy position to fill," O'Shea said. "It carries a lot of responsibility . . . the economy stinks, more people are turning to the department for help. You have to find a person who can be innovative without just cutting."

Officials with the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which works with county social service departments in administering food stamps and Medicaid funds, said under state law an acting commissioner can serve for up to one year.

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