SNOW HILL – New information has two of the Worcester County Commissioners questioning a recent decision to hire a workforce engagement specialist.
Commissioner Chip Bertino expressed concern this week over information provided by the consultant who handled the county’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program. The information, provided after the commissioners voted to use funding previously devoted to STEM to hire a new employee, contradicts statistics reported by county staff Feb. 2.
“We deserve to have proper information given to us so that we can make decisions,” Bertino said Tuesday.
At the Feb. 2 meeting of the commissioners, they voted to create a new workforce engagement position based on the recommendation of Tom Perlozzo, the county’s director of recreation, parks, tourism and economic development. Perlozzo said the county had spent more than $500,000 on STEM programs during the last 10 years and had little to show for it. He said that while the program had placed interns there had been no STEM positions in Worcester County resulting from the program.
Fawn Mete, who served as the contractual program manager for that program, emailed the commissioners Feb. 8 disputing those claims. She said the compensation figures Perlozzo gave were inaccurate and that there had been reporting of program success.
“All metrics that were included in my approved contract and program proposal were reported on annually,” she said. “I held a public STEM Recognition Ceremony each summer, where exhaustive qualitative data was presented by program participants and employer partners themselves. Quantitative data on participation was distributed at each event. Most commissioners personally attended these events at least once.”
She also took exception to Perlozzo’s statement that no full-time STEM jobs had resulted from the program. She included 2019 correspondence with the commissioners that referenced 11 program participants who had accepted full-time local jobs in STEM. She went on to name others who now worked in the local area in STEM fields.
She also detailed her previous recommendations regarding the program as well as other details that she said weren’t addressed accurately by Perlozzo.
“It is evident that the current department leadership wishes to move away from the services I provided, and the STEM program as it operated pre-COVID, as part of departmental reorganization,” she ended her email. “While I respect that decision, I would have appreciated the professional courtesy of open communication during the last several months. I hope a driven and qualified applicant for the newly approved workforce development position is found quickly for 2021 programs to get off the ground, as our youth have already lost so much during the pandemic. I wish Worcester county great success in this endeavor.”
In bringing up the email Tuesday, Bertino said he had no way of knowing if what Mete wrote was correct or not because staff hadn’t addressed the information or produced a response to the email.
“The only thing I know is that in my questions to people that met with Fawn she was questioned over the last two years on several occasions to provide that data and she did not,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Bertino said the information in the email should be investigated.
“The taxpayers of this county believe that the seven of us who are elected to represent them in county government are being told correct information,” he said. “I hope that’s the case when somebody looks into this and I hope somebody does by the next meeting. It’s very frustrating, and this is not the first time that staff has fallen down on providing the commissioners with information.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting agreed and said he might have voted differently at the last meeting if he’d been aware of the information in the email.
“I know this is twice this has happened recently,” he said.
When asked if county staff wanted to comment on the information in the email, Public Information Officer Kim Moses said they were addressing specific issues in the email.
“While Worcester County Government values the benefits of the STEM programs, we also recognize that county taxpayers will be better served by transitioning from a highly-competitive, two-week STEM camp and internship program, which is currently run by an independent contractor, to a broader three-fold program overseen in-house within Worcester County Economic Development (WCED) that is specifically designed to serve the business community and youth and adults from diverse backgrounds and skill sets on a full-time basis, 365 days per year.”
She said WCED would continue to offer the STEM internship program as well as the STAT (skilled trades, agriculture and tourism) program that will be overseen by the new coordinator.
“Essentially, in addition to continuing to connect youth with STEM internship opportunities, WCED will begin working closely with local, regional, and state partners as well as the business community to connect youth, under/unemployed adults and dislocated workers with career training to prepare them for full-time, family-sustaining careers with local and state government agencies and businesses operating in Worcester County,” she said.