Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on Tuesday appointed former Madison mayoral candidate Gloria Reyes co-deputy director of the county’s Department of Human Services after the County Board rejected state Rep. Shelia Stubbs for the director job.
Reyes will serve alongside and share duties with Astra Iheukumere, who is the interim director of the department. As co-deputy, Reyes will not need to go through the typical confirmation hearings as Stubbs had and won't need County Board approval, according to Greg Brockmeyer, director of the department of administration.
Heidi Wegleitner, chair of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee, said the news was “shocking,” especially after Parisi stated Thursday he wanted time to reset and heal following a tense and racially charged confirmation process for Stubbs.
Reyes, who lost to incumbent Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in the April election, was among those who spoke in favor of Stubbs’ hire during the County Board meeting on Thursday. She said the county’s entire process was “dysfunctional” and “based on personality, lack of respect and political allegiance.”
“You have perpetuated racial harm through this process and perpetuated current systems of oppression,” Reyes said. “I ask you to do the right thing tonight. Set aside your personal issues about what has transpired through this process and your political allegiances, and focus on who is best to lead and serve Dane County Human Services at this very moment in time.”
The county executive stood by Stubbs’ nomination, saying in a statement Thursday that County Board leaders displayed “unprecedented hostility” toward the state legislator and that the nomination got more pushback than he has ever experienced.
Moving forward, Parisi said he will review options for the county's hiring processes to help minimize the risk that those who step forward in the future are “subjected to what has occurred and instead are evaluated on their education and experience.”
“How this was conducted will damage our ability to recruit talent. This will constrain the effectiveness of any future search; time is the only remedy,” Parisi said Thursday. “After allowing a reset for healing, I will announce next steps to fill the position and minimize the impact of what has occurred on county operations.”
After two failed committee votes, a week of tensions running high and allegations of racism, Stubbs' effort to become director of Dane County human services was dealt the final blow Thursday. Parisi and other community leaders said Stubbs was treated unfairly in the process and in a manner that sent disturbing signals to the Black community, but an overwhelming majority of the board voted against the hire, citing a lack of qualifications.
“I think we can all agree we are saddened and frustrated by the manner in which the recent nomination process for Director of the Department of Human Services unfolded. While no one can undo what’s occurred, we most certainly can influence how we proceed,” Parisi said in a memo Tuesday in which he announced Reyes' appointment.
In her role, Parisi said, Reyes will “ensure county government's largest agency has the administrative support required to coordinate a number of upcoming projects, including development of the department's 2024 budget and navigating the transition from ongoing Covid-related support programs.”
“Gloria will support the management team in place at Human Services. She is a widely respected and talented community leader and I’m grateful for her willingness to serve the citizens of Dane County during this period of transition,” the memo states.
Parisi also said he looks forward to “a constructive and positive process and outcome” as the county moves forward with the recruitment for the next director in the coming weeks.
County Board Chair Patrick Miles was also not in the loop on the decision and taken aback by it. He is meeting with county staff Thursday on how to make the hiring process more transparent and said the executive's move feels contrary to that mission.
"This seems like an opaque process that landed us in trouble before with the last appointment. It was not done transparently and that's bothersome to me," Miles said. "I hope this isn't a thinly veiled attempt to position that person (Reyes) for eventual appointment."
Wegleitner said she was relieved to press pause on a process that has been “divisive, difficult and destabilizing” — but Tuesday’s memo seemed inconsistent with the idea of a reset to her.
“I'm surprised. I'm trying to get information and trying to understand how this would even work,” Wegleitner said. “We've never had a co-deputy model so I think everyone's pretty surprised and confused by this.”
April Kigeya, one of three Black supervisors on the County Board who received threats and insults throughout Stubbs’ confirmation process, said in a statement that Reyes was not a good fit for the role.
“My surprise is twofold … (that) Parisi has determined that the department now needs a co-deputy director and appoints someone who blasted us County Board supervisors during her remarks at last week's board meeting,” Kigeya said. “I don’t see how Gloria will support ‘the management team in place at Human Services’ when she doesn’t even support the County Board.”
Reyes, a former law enforcement officer, served as a deputy Madison mayor under Paul Soglin and was board president for the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Reyes starts May 22 and will be paid $74.22 an hour without benefits out of the department's existing salary line.