Marjorie Hall Ellis, the District's new commissioner for social services, said yesterday that she has set as priorities problems at the city's youth detention center, the income maintenance division that includes food stamp and welfare programs, and services for homeless families.
Ellis, the former human services director in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, who begins her job here Oct. 12, was introduced by Mayor Marion Barry at a news conference yesterday at the social services headquarters in Southwest.
Ellis' appointment drew sharp criticism from D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who blasted the mayor for hiring someone from out of town.
Crawford, who chairs the council's Human Services Committee, said he has no quarrel with Ellis, nor does he question her credentials. But, he said, the selection of an outsider for such a sensitive position "makes a mockery of home rule and the residency requirement . . . . People here should know they can aspire to top levels of government."
He also said, "I don't see how anyone from Cleveland can understand the chemistry of our government and the comnunity as a whole."
Crawford said he is angry that he had not been involved in the selection of Ellis, nor did he receive advance notice of her appointment or the hiring of Ellis' boss, Marion Jerome Woods, who was named acting director of the Department of Human Services in July. Woods' appointment requires council confirmation.
Confirmation hearings for Woods will not be held until "the council gets assurances from the mayor that local people will be considered" for top-level jobs, Crawford said. When the council reconvenes, Crawford said he will introduce legislation that would require confirmation hearings for the commissioners of social services, public health and mental health.
Woods and Ellis were both referred to District by a Boston executive search firm.
The mayor was not available to comment on Crawford's complaints last night, but his press secretary, John White, said the mayor holds fast to his right to "get the best talent available."
Ellis, who is taking early retirement from her Ohio job to accept the $68,300-a-year position here, said yesterday that the District's problems are similar to those in Ohio, just greater in magnitude.
At the news conference, Barry teased Ellis about her christening by Washington reporters who he said, rarley miss an opportunity to grill city officials about social service issues.
Asked how she would stem the tide of escapes from Oak Hill, the city's maximum-security facility for juveniles in Laurel, she said she would review staff policy, security measures and the wisdom of allowing the youths lengthy home visits.
A large number of youths missing from Oak Hill failed to return after being allowed to visit at home. "Escapes from an institution like that is a complicated issue," Ellis said.