For 14 months, since the death of an admired social worker, the immigrant community of Culmore, near Baileys Crossroads, has been waiting restlessly for Fairfax County to fill Sherry McMannis's position while an undermanned staff has attempted to cope with a plethora of social ills.
It has been a busy year for the Culmore Community Action Committee and its staff of one full-time administrator, Soledad Lyle, whose salary is paid by the committee's vice chairman, Jack Smith.
Lyle's tasks have included arranging health examinations for the uninsured; serving as translator for Spanish-speaking residents; and referring undocumented workers who have been cheated out of their pay to sympathetic police officers.
The county had promised that a new social worker would be coming soon, but last week, the committee grew weary of waiting. Voicing frustration with what a spokesman deemed "the failure of Fairfax County to give us the funding and personnel that's been promised," the public-private social organization in the disproportionately poor community abruptly announced last Tuesday the closing of its family services office. Its representatives said they didn't know where people in need of exams and counseling would go.
Alarm was followed by recriminations. "There's nothing being done by the county to help us on this," said Smith, manager of the Olde Salem Village apartment complex in Culmore. "We can't get the ESL [English as a Second Language] funding we need from the county either."
Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) responded that the county's budget includes $141,918 for Culmore--"everything from alcohol and drug services to recreational equipment"--and that Smith's action is that of "a mercurial man trying to get attention, pure politics. We've already budgeted for [the social worker]. It just hasn't happened yet."
After a daylong spate of charges and countercharges, another surprise came: a resolution to the conflict.
Deputy County Executive Verdia L. Haywood said the committee would quickly receive much of what it wanted: a new social worker within six weeks and "more attention" from the county.
The county's move averted the displacement of health and counseling services from the community and spared neighborhood police officers who work out of rooms inside committee offices from having to find new space.
Capt. Chuck Peters, who leads the Mason District substation, said of Smith's action, "It got everyone's attention."