City and state officials agree on new social services chief

Ex-head of Mich. agency taking Baltimore post

October 28, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A long political battle between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley came to an end yesterday with the appointment of a Michigan man as director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

After a yearlong tug of war over the appointment, O'Malley and Ehrlich's human resources secretary agreed to give the job to Samuel Chambers Jr., who recently served as president of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Not that either side passed up the opportunity to make it appear that Chambers was its choice.

"I am pleased that Secretary [Christopher J.] McCabe concurs on the appointment of Samuel Chambers Jr. as the new Director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services," O'Malley said in a written statement.

McCabe's office, meanwhile, sent out a news release saying he was recommending that Ehrlich and O'Malley appoint Chambers - although technically, under the law, it is the secretary and the mayor who must agree on the appointment, not the governor and mayor.

Chambers will replace Floyd R. Blair, the Ehrlich administration's first choice to head the primarily state-funded agency, which serves more than 50,000 city children and adults.

Chambers' salary information was not immediately available, officials said. The state paid Blair $105,183 a year. The director's salary is typically supplemented by the city, but Baltimore turned down Blair's request for an extra $35,000.

While at the helm of Rescue Mission Ministries, Chambers provided services to individuals and families struggling with homelessness, unemployment and drug addiction, state officials said.

He previously oversaw Michigan's effort to reform its foster care system, and has served as adjunct professor at Wayne State University.

Chambers began his public service career in 1968 and has held a variety of social service posts for Michigan and Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

"Mr. Chambers has the right experience and expertise to fix this troubled agency, helping Baltimore's most vulnerable citizens," O'Malley said. "And he has a record of effective leadership."

O'Malley had questioned the qualifications of Blair, whom McCabe appointed interim director against the mayor's wishes in September last year. O'Malley filed a lawsuit seeking Blair's removal on grounds that he lacked five years of management experience and the mayor's approval, which are required by law.

In July, a city Circuit Court judge sided with the city, ruling that the state did not have the right to install Blair without O'Malley's consent. The judge gave the state and city 45 days to agree on someone to lead the agency and left Blair in the job in the meantime.

The Aug. 26 deadline passed without an appointment and with Ehrlich and McCabe maintaining that Blair should still be considered a candidate.

But the city and state, after asking the court for more time, eventually started working together. And in a bit of political one-upmanship, the Ehrlich administration promoted Blair last month to oversee all of the state's 24 local social services offices, including the city's. O'Malley's consent was not required for that appointment.

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