AXE-MAN TURNER OVERDRIVE: HRA CHIEF MERGES AND PURGES

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If you thought that huffy welfare boss Jason Turner made a scene by storming out of a recent council meeting, you should have seen what he did when he got back to the office.

Turner, Wisconsin’s former welfare architect, has begun to merge and purge key units in the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), which he took over in late February. An internal staff memo, obtained by City Limits last week, paints a picture of an agency reshaped to fit Turner’s workfare-focused agenda.

In his most significant move, Turner plans to combine the agency’s Income Support unit, which doles out welfare payments, with the Office of Employment Services (OES), which oversees the mayor’s controversial workfare program.

The shift reflects Turner’s desire to make work a priority in all interactions with clients. OES’ Seth Diamond, who has been charged with implementation of the Work Experience program, is taking the helm. That leaves Diamond in control of the 32 welfare centers, newly re-christened “Job Centers” by Turner’s staff.

“The merger is an extreme problem,” says welfare advocate Liz Krueger, who thinks the changes mean stepped-up efforts to remove recipients from the rolls. Calls to HRA’s press office were not returned at press time.

The welfare reorganization leaves HRA veteran Burt Blaustein, whom many advocates cite as the agency’s sole remaining progressive higher-up, out on a limb. He’s been offered a relatively unimportant community relations position, and he may simply retire, sources say.

HRA’s Medical Assistance Program is being folded into the Office of Crisis Intervention. This creates a mega-unit, leaving Deputy Commissioner Iris Jimenez-Hernandez in charge of everything from Medicaid and adult protective services to emergency food relief and domestic violence protective services.

Other key staff moves:

Patricia Smith, a first deputy commissioner, replaces Helen Stirling as Family Independence Administration executive deputy commissioner. Stirling in turn moves over to the Administration for Children’s Services to run daycare and Headstart programs.

Turner has also brought in his highest ranking Big Cheese by importing Wisconsin budget office veteran Mark Hoover as his First Deputy Commissioner.

Deborah Sproles joins the press office. Renelda Higgins-Walker, public information director, is currently on sick leave, according to an agency spokesperson.