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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Devil and Tom Walker

Though Tom Walker is nothing like his namesake in the Washington Irving novel, he certainly is playing with the Devil. In late February, he appeared in front of nine of them in his quest to become Lehigh County's next Director of Human Services. I'm referring, of course, to Lehigh's Board of commissioners. There may be ten devils if you count Muller. Maybe he thought his association with the Lehigh Conference of Churches would shield him. If so, he thought wrong. He obviously has a sincere desire to make a difference, but his qualifications are suspect.

First, he has no direct experience working in an actual human services department on a county, state or federal level.

Second, he claimed to have a supervisory role over only twelve people at the Lehigh Conference of Churches,where he's been employed for the past 13 years. He's currently their Human Services Director.

Third, he claims to have made great strides in reducing homelessness on Allentown's Commission to End Chronic Homelessness, with which he's been involved since 2004. But as Commissioner Scott Ott observed, his Commission seemed to be a big failure this past Winter, when 40 people were crowded onto the floor at Safe Haven. "I don't get the sense that all these human service agencies have done all they can do," noted Ott."Maybe I'm hoping against hope.

Fourth, he is involved in a nonprofit that actually took a needless and counterproductive swipe at other homeless activists when the temperatures plunged and the problem became a crisis. Forced into opening their doors, The Lehigh Conference of Churches sent out a mailer referring to the homeless in condescending terms as "the least of these, my brothers and sisters." It also condemned the efforts of others as "divisive and derisive."

Fifth, Walker had no good answer to Geoff Brace's question about how he would keep the Lehigh Conference of Churches, one of the County's biggest vendors, accountable.   Perhaps there is nogood answer.

These are his negatives, but Walker has his strong points. The Chief of these seem to be his desire to make a difference.

First, He proposes making incremental changes in block grants, where flexibility is possible.

Second, he wants to perform a community wide needs assessment. "How can you save lives without knowing what the community needs?" he asks.

Third, his familiarity with nonprofits will enable him to collaborate with them.

Fourth, he'd do more work on suicide prevention.

Fifth, he'd focus more on children, making more of an effort to ensure they are literate and have a chance of making it through high school.

"It is government's responsibility to ensure that the needs of the least of us are met," he told Commissioners. I'm not sure that the so-called reform block buys into that, and I certainly don't think the Lehigh Conference of Churches distinguished itself by the way they handled the most recent homeless crisis. But Walker himself seems to be genuinely concerned.

Lehigh Commissioners will vote on Walker this Wednesday night.


Anonymous said...

This is similar to the John Brown Human Services episode.
what the hell is going on?

County Human Services isn't some sweet little "do good" operation. It is a huge bureaucracy, employing hundreds of people. It works though a myriad of state and federal funding and laws and regulations. How can someone like this even be considered?

Wanting to do good is admirable but you are asking a counter cook at a greasy spoon to be head chef at the Ritz.

How can there be no real experienced and qualified people out there?

Anonymous said...

Bernie, pease expand on your fifth point above. How does Walker plan to make children more literate?

Isn't that the domain of schools? Does the county have the money available to cross over into an area that should already be getting addressed by the school districts?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I can't expand on the fifth point bc i know little beyond what he said.

Anonymous said...

Simply not qualified.

Anonymous said...

Everyone underestimates the complexity of this job. There are fewer than 6 people who can do it in the Lehigh Valley. None is in office or being considered for so.

Anonymous said...

Agree with 12:03, probably even a lower number. People love to attack some of the people who did it but it is a pressure cooker job that has many sides to it.

I have a known a couple people who did it and if you want to do the job well it is hard and thankless.

Of course between Musty Muller and Kluless Kane in Lehigh County you would expect this.

Anonymous said...

This guy looks like a psycho. His interview at the last commissioners meeting was embarrassing. He is totally unqualified for the position. What has Muller been smoking to nominate this clown?

Bernie O'Hare said...

He's no clown and stikes me as very sincere. this is what you get when people are selected to these highly specialized jobs that may last only 4 years.I believe it is time to make Human Services Director a career position, not a political plum.

Anonymous said...

Disagree completely with you Bernie. Too big a department to run away on its own. It merely shows how "some" county executives treat a very important decision.

Lehigh County has a reputation for just "plugging" people into that position who had no business of being there to begin with.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not suggesting it run on its own. I'm suggesting that the Director be appointed differently so that it attracts more competent people. here's an idea.Continue to appoint, but do it in the year after the Exec is elected, and make the appointment for 5 years.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Lehigh County even have Frank Kane as Dir. of Human Services? That is the wildest. After over eight years people still don't know what his job really is or what he does.

Anonymous said...

Bernie. Lehigh County voted down Tom Walkers nomination for lack of experience. It is unfortunate but in reality this is one vote they probably got right.

A couple of your posters brought up interesting posts about only a few people that have really done this well.

In my dealings with the two counties over many years, I would say that John Stoffa and Ron Heckman were probably the most accomplished and well rounded Human Services Directors I dealt with. They both possessed a very expansive and deep understanding of the responsibilities of the entire department as to service sand budgets.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I would have voted for him, simply because the pickins are slim. Why would anyone who is really accomplished in this field want to work for a county when he or she can only count on 4 years? Wouldn't it make more sense to stay in a job that pays nearly as much and where you can't be fired at the drop of a hat?

I believe that if both counties want to attract quality people to these jobs (and I mean no offense to Walker bc he is a quality person), they need to change the Charter and revisit how these officials are selected.

This is just one of several examples making clear that it is time to revisit the HRC in both counties.

I feel very bad for Tom Walker, who as I said seems so sincere, but I don't quarrel with the decision.

Anonymous said...

At least he was more qualified than Ross Marcus and he got the job.