Stating it was “time for a change,” County Executive Mike Hein announced Wednesday, Dec. 28 that Department of Social Services Commissioner Roberto Rodriguez would not be reappointed when his six-year term expires in January. Hein said the decision had been made final within the last week.

Hein said a nationwide search for a new commissioner would begin on Jan. 8. According to the county charter, the position must be filled by permanent (six-year) appointment by Feb. 17. The position pays $101,300 a year, plus about 35 percent extra in the value of benefits. Hein said deputy commissioners would run the department until a permanent appointment is made.

Rodriguez, who took a two-week vacation at the end of the year, was not available for comment.

But county Legislator Robert Parete, who sat on the search committee that found Rodriguez and recommended his hiring, was upset. “We did a nationwide search and Roberto rose to the top. He is by far the most capable person in Ulster County Government to run an operation like DSS and it’s upsetting and sad to hear that he wasn’t reappointed,” said Parete, a Democrat from Stone Ridge. “Even more sad is that the county executive chose not to contact the legislature and myself as deputy chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. The commissioner ran a billion-dollar hospital in New York City and is quite capable and should be reconsidered. I’m not happy, put it that way.”

Hein would not say whether Rodriguez was fired or resigned. Neither would he comment on Rodriquez’s record during his six-year tenure. “I prefer to stick to my [press release] statement,” he said, which was “I wish commissioner Rodriguez well and thank him for his time and efforts in serving the people of Ulster County.” Rodriguez was not given a severance package, according to the executive.

Rodriquez, whose background was in hospital administration, was originally appointed by the legislature. Under the charter which took effect in 2009, the county executive’s recommendation of an appointment is subject to approval by the legislature. Social services is the county’s largest department — almost a third of the entire $364 million budget. Its numerous state-mandated programs directly impact the lives of thousands of residents.

Slideshow image: Outgoing DSS Commissioner Roberto Rodriguez. (Dion Ogust)