Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman plans to reorganize three government offices — including the Department of Citizen Services — to enhance their powers and clearly delineate roles.
The plan — outlined in a Dec. 22 letter to the Howard County Council — is based on recommendations outlined in a March report by Kittleman's transition team.
In response to confusion about the roles of the county's two housing entities, the move would sever the Housing Commission from the Department of Housing and Community Development.
The commission — a self-funded group that builds and manages affordable housing and oversees Section 8 housing — is already a separate public authority that makes decisions independent of the county government.
But it shares the same executive director at the housing department and receives legal counsel from the county's Office of Law.
Michael Davis, head of Kittleman's transition team, responded positively to the changes, saying detaching the commission from the department would reduce potential conflicts of interest between the two entities and allow the commission to explore more creative housing opportunities.
Thirty of the 38 employees in the housing department work for the commission on a part-time or full-time basis, according to Davis.
"Housing projects developed by the commission or in which the commission may be involved are criticized as being government-funded projects when in fact, they are commission projects," according to a joint task report by the Department of Citizen Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development.
The remaining eight employees under the commission would be absorbed into a new office within the county's Department of Citizen Services, which is the county's human service agency. The office would handle grants management, housing opportunities, homeless services and community partnerships.
The plan would also transfer the housing department's statutory programs to the Department of Citizen Services, a move Kittleman says will better meet the needs of low- and moderate-income families and ensure a "no wrong door" approach is implemented. "No wrong door" is a philosophy in human services that encourages service providers to address people's needs and provide access to information above and beyond why the person initially contacted the service provider.
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Phyllis Madachy, the director of the Department of Citizen Services, said the reorganization plans were a "good fit" with the department's current services. "This [letter] is in the full coverage of what the task force recommended," she said.
Additionally, the department would have a new item on its agenda: providing support services for veterans, who compose roughly 7 percent of the population in Howard County, according to the letter.
The Office of Transportation would be absorbed under the Department of Planning and Zoning in order to be "better integrated in the planning review process," Kittleman wrote in the letter. Public transportation is a looming challenge for the county as it works to redevelop Downtown Columbia and address the growing needs of aging village centers.
The reorganization will create "a more robust department that will better meet the needs of our citizens," Kittleman wrote.
Changes will be submitted as a bill before the County Council likely at the end January, according to Andy Barth, Kittleman's press secretary.