Our first guests in a series of Newsroom Notables

As part of PublicSource’s mission to understand the issues facing the region and Pennsylvania, we have begun a series of discussions we’re calling Newsroom Notables.

PublicSource is inviting people into its newsroom to talk about what their agencies and offices are doing and the challenges they have met along the way.

We’re also sharing our experiences as reporters and what we’ve been hearing as we pound the pavement and work the phones.

Questions go both ways in these conversations. We’re happy to talk about behind-the-scenes work that went into finding our latest investigation. And well, we’re reporters, so plan on dealing with a few curious personalities.

Our first meeting was with a group from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

The department is responsible for administering an array of human services to about 225,000 people in Allegheny County.

Those populations include children and families, the elderly, homeless, people with disabilities, people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and those involved with the criminal justice system.

The guests were: Marc Cherna, director of Allegheny County Department of Human Services; Karen Blumen, deputy director of the department; and Pat Valentine, executive deputy director for the department’s Integrated Program Services.

In January, Cherna was awarded the first Casey Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Child Welfare Leadership from Casey Family programs, a national foundation interested in foster children and other vulnerable youth.

Cherna said the department he leads has 160 funding sources, employs more than 1,000 people and funds about 300 provider agencies.

He and his colleagues said they value transparency in the large publicly-funded department. They conduct evaluations of their own programs and do not shy away from pointing out shortcomings.

“We try to be real transparent because this business is so difficult,” Cherna said. “We try things with a cherished notion that it will really make an impact, and lo and behold, it’s not working and then we try something else.”

The department also posts a trove of public information on its website when the staff recognizes a pattern of people requesting the information, Blumen said.

If you would like to visit the PublicSource newsroom or know of a group that might be interested, please reach out to us.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.