Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Envelope Please...

...and the winner is (drumroll)...wait for it...
...wait three months for it...

Posted by: Noel Jones

After three months of a very mysterious process, the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership has a leader again. Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) has hired Esther Guzman, former CEO the Dover, NJ Spanish-American Federal Credit Union to manage the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership. The position was formerly held by Gary Bertsch, who retired January 18th to move to Florida. Why this hiring process has taken so long, especially when I had heard Esther was the original choice of the hiring committee back in January, is anybody's guess, as I have also heard that for some reason CACLV decided to add Mayor Panto and Bob Freeman to the process in a new round of interviews, and then

added WWNP funders to yet another round of interviews, before announcing in the Express Times that they were starting the entire process all over again in February, leaving the nonprofit without a manager for almost three months, only to end up hiring the committee's first choice in the end.

In the blog poll at the bottom of this home page, among the top three qualities chosen by Neighbors of Easton readers as most important qualities in a new WWNP manager, were:
  1. Enough backbone to advocate for residents of the West Ward at all times, not just when politically expedient
  2. Good management skills
  3. Familiarity with the West Ward and its residents
#1 remains to be seen, we can hope for the best. #2 looks good, as Ms. Guzman seems to have a strong management background at the credit union. #3 clearly was not taken into consideration by CACLV at all, as Ms. Guzman is not only not a resident of the West Ward, but was living in New Jersey when hired, when there were at least four West Ward residents in the running that I know of.

So while CACLV has made it clear that what matters to the West Ward resident readers of this blog does not matter in their decision-making processes (processes, which, at least under the Urban Ecology Program, profess to be resident-driven), we cannot hold this against Ms. Guzman, who sounds like a fine person and has become our neighbor by moving to Ferry Street. I am relieved to know that the office finally has a manager at all, and take comfort in knowing that she was the original choice of the hiring committee, which included two WW residents. I also think that it is a plus that Ms. Guzman is bilingual--hopefully the WWNP will begin to reach more of the Spanish-speaking residents that make up over 15% of our neighborhood. It is likewise a plus that the WWNP office begins to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood it serves, although it still has a way to go in that regard. 

I hope that you will join me in welcoming Esther to the neighborhood, and I look forward to seeing the progress that the WWNP will make in the months ahead under her direction.  I surfed the web in hopes of finding a photo of her for this post, but alas, found none, hence the envelope.

Most of all, I want to congratulate Sophia Feller, as she can finally stop working two jobs, just in time to enjoy her role as guardian of the community garden again.

Below are articles from both the Express Times and The Morning Call on the hiring of Esther Guzman:

Please post your comments here, whether to welcome Esther, thank Sophia, or to express your thoughts on CACLV's hiring process.


Dennis R. Lieb said...

I want to take this opportunity to thank Sophia for her quiet and professional service to the West Ward over these past three months during what was probably a difficult and trying time.

I'd also like to thank all 22 of the current and former elected officials, appointed officials, business community members and neighborhood activists from all over Easton and the Lehigh Valley who took the time to make personal recommendations on my behalf for the WWNP job. I appreciated it greatly.

I would hesitantly mention that as someone who was interviewed twice for the position (once in each hiring phase) that there are dicrepencies in the E-T story between what is stated and my personal experience in the interview process. I don't know if I want to get into that right now. Maybe a letter to the editor is in order.


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Thank you Sophia for stepping into the breach, and welcome Esther!

David Caines said...

Jeanette met her at the steering committee meeting and said she seemed like a "Good Egg". So, welcome to Easton and yes thanks to Sophia, Tom, and others who are doing all they can to make Easton a better place.

Alan Jennings said...

I need input from my staff to respond properly to the questions regarding the budget for the housing rehab. As soon as I get that, I'll pass it along.

As for the hiring of Esther, Noel, I wish you would get your facts straight before you criticize. We're an open book. Just about anything anyone wants to know about us is available, either on our website or by simply contacting us. You called the process “mysterious,” then went on to describe much of it accurately.

First, it might be a disappointment to you, but your “poll” was not our guide to filling this position. Challenging the mayor might make for fun diatribes on a blog, but we cannot do community development without support and cooperation from the city. But the really funny thing is your apparent belief that we aren’t willing to challenge the system when necessary. Read any newspaper, ask anyone who does, and they will tell you that we are just about the only organization in the region with the guts to challenge to speak truth to power.

Second, your suggestion that we hire a resident regardless of whether the other qualifications fit belies any understanding of what it takes to pull off the kind of community problem-solving work we do. We need a manager, someone who knows community development, preferably someone who speaks Spanish, someone who’s dealt with government grants and all the accountability and reporting requirements and someone with a community organizing background. While we advertised for a resident, that wasn’t the only criterion. Give Esther some credit for moving into the neighborhood. Moreover, Esther grew up in South Bethlehem. Her employment history includes a stint in Easton.

Third, our "mysterious" hiring process included many stakeholders and involved the kind of hand wringing I would think you would appreciate insofar as it illustrates the seriousness everyone applied to filling this critically important position. In the first round, six people helped conduct the interviews, including two West Ward residents, a city employee and a city council member. The group, indeed, leaned toward a particular candidate but did not feel strongly enough to make that decision. So, we got the input of the mayor and state representative who have lived their entire lives in the city and served its residents for many years. I'm not sure why you would criticize their involvement. They, too, leaned in favor of a candidate, but not without some equivocation. So we did a third interview, this time seeking the input of the representatives of the two companies (Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Easton Hospital) that have invested $1 million each in the West Ward. Again, I'm not sure why you would criticize our seeking their input. In this third round, yet another neighborhood resident participated. This group, too, leaned in favor of the original candidate but requested that we advertise again. After soliciting new candidates, four individuals, including a neighborhood resident who serves on city council, interviewed several more candidates, including two from the original group. This new group included an impressive array of talent. However, having interviewed Esther three times, we came back around to someone who meets every criterion but the residency. And she is now a resident.

(Continued in next post...)

Alan Jennings said...

(Continued from previous post...)

Fourth, with respect to diversity, we have two staff on the payroll: both are residents, one long-term, and half are minority. I might also note that more than half of CACLV’s employees are of color. Not many employers can make such a claim.

Noel, I appreciate your keen interest in the work of the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership. But it would be great if you would be a little more understanding of what it takes to raise substantial amounts of private money, generate government funding and build something resembling a consensus. We've streetscaped a city block, improved 50 residential facades (by the way, I agree with Dennis Lieb’s post on this subject), facilitated the opening of a teen center, improved business signage, replaced dozens of sidewalks, inventoried all of the trees, removed all the dead tree stumps, and planted hundreds of trees, funded academic reports on urban environmental problems, educated young children about their natural environment, planted community gardens and more. Yet, we know there is so much more to do. Assuming we are able to get the funding to fall into place we will be rehabbing residential and, hopefully, commercial buildings to green standards, adding park benches and trash receptacles to the 600 block of Northampton Street, creating a green business district on the street, and plenty more.

As I said in my last post, we ain't perfect. But I am proud of the resources, energy, and focus we have brought to the West Ward.

~Alan Jennings, CACLV

noel jones said...


Regarding your comment:

'it might be a disappointment to you, but your “poll” was not our guide to filling this position. Challenging the mayor might make for fun diatribes on a blog...'

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you must have had a rough day--your post sounds defensive, dismissive of resident opinion, and a bit like the 'how dare you' tone that we get from local political bodies sometimes. I can only hope you didn't really mean to say that. It is hard for residents to have faith in a resident-driven canton program when we encounter this kind of resistance to voicing disappointment.

I did 'give credit to Esther for moving to the neighborhood' in my post--perhaps you didn't read it all--we are happy to have her, I only wish we could have had her three months ago, when Gary left. I'm delighted that she's moved to my street and look forward to meeting her.

Our poll says nothing about 'challenging the mayor' but rather 'advocating for the neighborhood at all times, not just when politically expedient.'

As for the $420K to rehab two houses, I'm sure there is a lot we don't know about what goes into a project like this and any information you can share will help residents to understand.

I will end with a compliment--I heard your radio show for the first time yesterday on WDIY and thought it was really great--thanks for having rail advocates on--we need to keep raising public awareness on passenger rail.

Sal Panto, Jr. said...

I interviewd several of the candidates only as a means of getting to know who they were. I made it very clear that this was not a city position and therefore I didn't feel comfortable being a decision maker but appreciated the opportunity to be involved.

It is difficult to hire an individual to lead a diverse community-based organization like WWNP and although it may have taken longer than anyone thought the group fully vetted the individuals they felt deserved an interview and some of the candidates were interviewed several times.

Yes, I did call to voice a recommendation on two local applicants prior to my being asked to sit with the finalists.

In the end I find that the committee made an excellent choice among many excellent candidates. I am pleased that she has moved into the WW and also that she is an Hispanic female bringing diversity to our diverse city.

As for Alan Jennings and the CACLV I cannot say anything but positive accolades for him. He single-handidly went out and got the commitment of $2million to creatre WWNP. And this is only one of thousands of commnunity activist groups he has worked for and has been creating a better quality of life for those that are underpriveleged for decades. He is a true spokesman for those that cannot speak for themselves. In addition to WWNP he also assisted me in starting the Safe Harbor homeless shelter 20 years ago. He assists us today in helping people avoid foreclosure. His list of accomplishments go on and on. As I always say, I don't like email or blogs because the inpersonal relationship leav es out the emotion or how the statement was made.

I am excited about the resident engagement in the West Ward and look forward to working with all residents to make the WW and our city a better place for all. WE can't start bickering among ourselves or we will all fail.

Yes I finally got a screen name.