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Lorigo urges County Executive to temporarily pull back Social Services nomination

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Erie.gov
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Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo is urging the county executive to temporarily remove Marie Cannon's nomination for Commissioner of Social Services, until an investigation into circumstances surrounding her former boss is complete.

The Legislature's Government Affairs Committee was scheduled to meet Thursday morning, at which time Cannon's appointment was expected to be a focus of discussion.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz appointed Marie Cannon last month to fill the position vacated by Al Dirschberger, who left amid allegations of sexually assaulting a subordinate while the two were on a road trip. He was indicted in Janaury on rape and criminal sex act counts.

Cannon, who previously served as Deputy First Commissioner, had been named Acting Commissioner in December following Dirschberger's departure.

The Legislature, meanwhile, voted to authorize an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dirschberger's departure and alleged wrongdoings. Lorigo told WBFO Cannon is a qualified candidate and he would be willing to vote for her confirmation, but after the probe is complete.

His concern is her connection to her former boss in the Social Services Department and questions it may raise during the probe.

"My concern is whether or not Ms. Cannon knew of anything or any prior allegations, any relationships that existed with Mr. Dirschberger and his alleged victim," Lorigo said. 

He also noted that the Social Service Commissioner's position is a five-year term and, in his words, is difficult to remove once confirmed.

While expressing his approval of Cannon leading the department on an interim basis, he prefers the investigation run its course before lawmakers vote on confirmation.

"I'm hopeful that investigation could be completed within a couple of months," Lorigo said. "I'm not looking to delay Ms. Cannon's appointment any further. As I told Marie, if the investigation comes back and there are no issues with her or surrounding Mr. Dirschberger, then I'd the first to vote yes on her appointment."

Poloncarz, in a written letter to Lorigo, calls his concerns "unfounded" and says given the size and importance of the Department of Social Services, "it is imperative that the position be filled as soon as possible."

The department has an annual budget of more than $600 million and provides programs and services "that impact the lives of thousands of county residents every day," as Poloncarz wrote.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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