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Butler leaves after 2 years on the job

By ERICA MITRANO

Staff writer

Karen S. Butler, director of the Charles County Department of Social Services, is leaving to take the helm of the Howard County department.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources and Charles County government are now searching for her replacement.

Butler took over the Charles County department in January 2010, when then-director Rebecca Bridgett left to become county administrator. Butler will work in Charles County until Dec. 15 and start work in Howard County the following Monday, she said.

Butler worked to make the department easier for welfare recipients to navigate, she said, including placing a “greeter” in the foyer to help people figure out where to go.

“I think our brand has changed a little. We’ve done a lot of work with community partnerships and making our work and our philosophies known to partner agencies. That’s been very helpful. I think, I hope, the customers have felt that seamless transfer of service from one agency to another. That was one of my goals, to streamline the transfer from agency to agency,” and from the government to local charities, Butler said. “It’s hard enough to swallow your pride and come into Social Services to ask for help. I didn’t want to exacerbate that by making them feel less than welcome when they got here.”

Howard County’s Department of Social Services is about the same size as Charles County’s, so “the attraction was the, I’m going to say, the diversity of the county,” Butler said. “It’s something that I’ve been looking for, particularly for my son, to have a little more exposure right at his fingertips, instead of having to travel to get it. … I think I’ll have, up there, different challenges to kind of enhance my management and leadership skills.”

Candice Quinn Kelly (D), president of the Charles County commissioners, lauded Butler’s “spunk” and “energy.”

“I fully respect that she’s on a career path. I’m happy to see her moving along that career path. I know Howard County is really fortunate to get her, and we’ll miss her. I’m grateful, I’m sure I can speak for the board when I say this, for the service she’s given this county and its citizens,” Kelly said.

The commissioners will work with state government in recruiting Butler’s replacement, a process Kelly expects to begin soon.

Seri A. Wilpone, chief attorney of the Legal Aid Bureau’s Southern Maryland office, worked with Butler and her staff on legal cases involving county foster children.

“She has been concerned about the welfare of children in Charles County. That’s been the primary interactions that we’ve had. And she has helped to improve services to children and families,” Wilpone said, including getting medication ordered for children who needed it.

Under Butler’s tenure, Social Services also helped the homeless, said Corae Young, assistant director of LifeStyles of Maryland, a La Plata-based charity.

“Certainly we’ve had a great opportunity to work closely with her staff, especially when it came to our Safe Nights program, making sure the homeless population got served. That’s been a huge benefit,” Young said.

Churches participating in Safe Nights offer their premises for a week, in rotation, during the coldest months of the year, giving a meal and overnight shelter to people with nowhere else to sleep.

Young said she hopes the relationship between the nonprofit and the department would continue under its new director.

“Hopefully [we’ll have] the same support and collaboration we’ve been able to improve over the past few years. We’d love to be able to continue having that partnership,” Young said.

Until a permanent replacement is found, Donna Harley, assistant director for child support, will serve as interim director, a role she also filled after Bridgett’s departure. Harley will make “sure things are still running smoothly” and might have a role in finding Butler’s replacement, Harley said.

emitrano@somdnews.com