Marie Glaze, chairwoman of the Office of Community Services’ Human Rights Commission, knows an era has ended. She began the commission’s Jan. 25 meeting by recognizing that.
“This is our first meeting A.P. — after Phil,” Glaze said.
Acknowledging the change, the city government has begun to reorganize the Office of Community Services without longtime manager Phil Steinhaus. After leading the Community Services Office for 12 years, Steinhaus left Jan. 17 to become the Columbia Housing Authority’s new CEO.
The first step has been the recent conversion of the community services office into a division of the Department of Public Health. The move, proposed by City Manager Bill Watkins, unites two organizations concerned with the well-being of Columbia and Boone County residents.
“There’s a great amount of synergy,” Watkins said. “If there’s an abuse problem, you often have a health problem.”
The Health Department incorporated the Community Services Office on Jan. 17. On Jan. 20., the new division moved into the Health Department building, 1005 W. Worley St. The community services manager will now report to Public Health Director Stephanie Browning, who then reports directly to the city manager. Before the merger, the Office of Community Services reported to the assistant city manager.
Browning agrees the move is logical, since both the Health Department and the community services office have the same goals in mind.
“In public health, we are concerned with general well-being,” Browning said. “We can’t make advances unless we address challenging topics like affordable housing. It’s a natural link.”
Browning said the move also creates a support system for the four community services employees within the larger public health system.
Nanette Chun-Ming Ward, a human rights investigator and community educator, is the only community services employee with experience before the merger.
“We have available to us a lot of resources to maintain our identity and expand to a larger one within the Department of Health,” Ward said.
The timing, however, proved especially difficult for the Human Rights commission, Ward said. The group had just wrapped up its Columbia Values Diversity breakfast and was in the middle of preparing “Let’s Talk, Columbia,” its annual round of community dialogue Feb. 11-12, the two major citywide events the commission plans.
Still, Ward said she is pleased with the move.
“It feels good to be incorporated into a larger body that feels friendly and tends to peoples’ need,” she said.
The city received 66 applications for the vacant community services manager position.
Five candidates will be interviewed this week. Browning said she hopes to fill the position within a month.