New Chief Sought As Smith Quits Cac

Dayhoff Acting President At County Anti-poverty Agency

August 23, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

After four years as executive director and president of Howard County's nonprofit anti-poverty agency, James B. Smith has resigned and a search will soon commence for a new leader.

Smith, 40, of Owings Mills, resigned from the $88,828-a-year post Aug. 7. The Community Action Council's vice president, Bita Dayhoff, a 20-year veteran of the agency, is serving as acting president, board members said.

His resignation letter gave no reason for his departure, CAC board members said, and they offered no explanation.

"I wish James the best. I can't talk about a personnel issue," said Natalie Janiszewski, the board chairwoman, who is also a county teacher.

C. Vernon Gray, a former County Council member and the county's human rights administrator who is also on the CAC board, offered little more.

"James represented the agency well when he dealt with the external community," Gray said.

Janiszewski said she has seen no interruption in agency services to the county's poor.

"I don't feel we've missed a beat. We have full confidence in Bita," she said.

Several sources close to the agency suggested that Smith's outside academic and religious activities might have limited the time he spent on what can be a demanding job running an agency with a $5.5 million budget and 80 employees, especially in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades. However, they declined to elaborate, and Smith did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The Community Action Council operates the pre-school Head Start program in the county, a food bank off Route 108 and administers emergency services for people on the brink of eviction or who have lost utility service. The agency is helping to distribute $4.6 million in state energy grants this year.

"Being director of a CAC is a 24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour job; it is just a full-time job," said Dorothy L. Moore, who should know. Smith replaced Moore as executive director in July 2005 after Moore had worked for the Lyndon Johnson-era program for 36 years, including 18 as director.

"There will be a search committee set up and everybody, including Bita, is welcome to apply," said Michael C.A. McPherson, board vice chair who served as president for three years until June.

"We need someone who knows about the programs we offer," he added.

He declined to say why Smith resigned, but said it was not the result of any problems.

Smith brought a different professional background to the job from Moore, a Howard native who rose through the ranks after starting as a community organizer in the 1960s.

His youthful energy and experience put together interest in helping the poor with a background in business, which was what CAC leaders thought was needed in an era of corporate and private fundraising. Smith had been a senior program director at the Baltimore Community Foundation and before that worked at the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. He was chosen for the CAC job from among 110 applicants.

Meanwhile, CAC's work goes on, Dayhoff said.

The agency recently installed signs on Route 108 near Thunder Hill advertising the location of the food bank in an effort to raise its profile and spur donations, which are often slow in summer.

She was especially pleased last week, she said, to get a $2,500 check and 300 calculators for the agency's Prepare for Success school supply program from Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, who made the presentation Monday at the Ravens training camp in Westminster.

Dayhoff said the program has helped more than 16,000 county students get needed school supplies since it began in 2002, and McGahee's donation will help 1,600 students get ready for the opening of county schools Aug. 31.

"Willis has given the children a voice and a sense of hopefulness that they have the support of the community that believes in them," Dayhoff said.

On July 27, Dayhoff said, Ayla Hoffheiser, 15, a rising sophomore at Marriott's Ridge High School, solicited 300 cloth grocery bags from area supermarkets to donate to the CAC's food bank as a way of helping the environment by cutting use of plastic bags. She also made a poster explaining the advantages of reusable grocery bags and attached a tag to each donated bag repeating the points.

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