Leaders of the local social-services community praised the work of Denise Stewart, who has retired as executive director of the Mahoning County Children Services Board, effective today.
Stewart, who declined to comment on her retirement, had been placed on paid administrative suspension through Monday by the 13-member board at a hastily- announced special board meeting Dec. 21.
After that meeting, the Rev. Lewis Macklin, CSB chairman, said Stewart, who was appointed executive director in 1998, was suspended pending a CSB investigation, but he would not be specific about what was being investigated.
Macklin and CSB’s acting director, Tony Paris, could not be reached to comment Monday.
“Her work ethic and her skill are, and always have been, unassailable,” Elsie Dursi, who was at CSB when Stewart joined the child welfare agency as a caseworker in 1974, said of Stewart.
“Denise has poured herself into her career and has earned the respect of her staff,” said Dursi, a social worker, who is a close personal friend of Stewart’s as well as a professional colleague.
Dursi, who will retire Jan. 31 as director of the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, worked regularly with CSB while she headed Protestant Family Services between 1976 and 1989.
Saying the suspension came during Stewart’s vacation, four days before Christmas, and 10 days after a regular board meeting at which no issues were raised concerning her job performance, Dursi called the timing of the board’s action “outrageous.”
Dursi credited Stewart with leading the agency’s move in 2005 from “dilapidated, leaky quarters on Market Street to a custom-designed building in a now-thriving downtown” and said fiscal and case audits of CSB have produced excellent results under her leadership.
“The staff respects, admires and, most importantly, relied on their leader,” Dursi said.
“She’s always been somebody I have respected and been able to contact for assistance and guidance over the years,” said Joe Caruso, president and chief executive officer of Compass Family and Community Services.
“We’ve enjoyed a productive working relationship with Denise and CSB, he added.
Compass provides mental-health services and operates the Daybreak runaway youth shelter and the Sojourner House shelter for domestic violence victims.
“Denise has had a long commitment to serving the children in the Valley through Children Services, and I would wish her all the best in her retirement,” said Nancy Voitus, executive director of the Catholic Charities Regional Agency.
“We’ve had a very positive relationship with Denise and Children Services,” she said.
“Her focus has always been on what’s best for children and how to improve things in the system serving children,” Voitus said of Stewart.