After a five-month joint state-county search, a veteran Prince George's County social services official has been chosen to direct Howard County's welfare agency.
Charlene R. Gallion, 50, was chosen by Howard County Executive James N. Robey and state human resources director Christopher J. McCabe. The District Heights resident had been deputy director for family investment at the Prince George's social services office since 1996 and is a 27-year veteran of state service.
Gallion said she was thankful and "humbled" by her selection. She is to start Feb. 2.
Despite a rough start in August, when McCabe angered Robey by unilaterally choosing Doris Mason as interim Howard social services director, the final selection apparently went smoothly.
A combined county-state committee whittled the final eight applicants to two, and Robey said he and McCabe agreed on Gallion.
"The process worked extremely well," Robey said, adding that his relationship with McCabe "couldn't be better."
He also said he was very impressed with Gallion.
"What struck me was all that she had accomplished in Prince George's County," Robey said. In the final interview, Robey said, Gallion presented a six-month action plan she would implement if selected.
In addition, Robey said, "She's got a wonderful personality. She's very easy to get along with and is easy to talk to."
The state salary for the position is $84,933, and Howard has a $7,713 supplement budgeted for the job, officials said.
Others who know Gallion or interviewed her praised the appointment.
"She's paid her dues. She's bubbly and a very nice person. They made a good choice," said Sam Marshall, who retired in July after 30 years as Howard's social services director.
"She's a fabulous choice for the citizens of Howard County," said Melody Higgins, the county's social services board chairwoman, who was a member of the selection committee.
"I was highly impressed with her. She seemed to have a great working knowledge of the issues confronting the clients DSS [Department of Social Services] serves, as well as compassion for their needs," said Susan Rosenbaum, another selection panel member who is director of the county's Department of Citizens Services.
Gallion started as an income maintenance worker in the Prince George's agency in 1977, obtaining a bachelor's degree from Bowie State University in 1982. She earned a master's degree in psychology there a decade later.
She also has experience on the state level, in information management and, in the early 1990s, as director of Project Independence, an early welfare-to-work program.
"I've always been a people-type person. I've always enjoyed understanding and dealing with people," Gallion said.
Gallion's appointment comes after a period of tumult in Howard's social services agency, starting with the abrupt firing June 30 of Kathy Heslin, an assistant social services director. Heslin's firing came weeks after she told the county social services board that state officials were refusing to fill five clerical-support jobs paid for with county and private funds, despite severe staff cuts imposed in 2001 during the recession.
Then Marshall retired after three decades, charging as he left that Ehrlich administration officials "are going to cut social services to the bare bones. It's not a priority."
Finally, as Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley battled in court for the right to be involved in choosing a new social services director for the city, McCabe picked Mason as interim director in Howard, angering Robey.
Now, however, the tension appears to have eased.
"County Executive Robey and I worked hard to assure that Howard County would get a top-notch professional for this important job," McCabe said in a prepared statement yesterday.
"Secretary McCabe and I put the issue of the interim director behind us. It couldn't have gone any smoother," Robey said about the selection process.
"Based on what I've seen, if there is any difficulty within the organization it will quickly disappear" under Gallion, he said.