Oct 8, 2007

Senate holding confirmation hearing for new DHS director

LANSING – With the budget crisis out of the way – for 30 days at least – the Michigan Senate is getting back to its normal schedule of 10 a.m. sessions Tuesday through Thursday.

In a routine week filled with committee hearings, the Senate Families and Human Services Committee’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday of Ismael Ahmed as the director of the troubled Department of Human Services may be the most interesting. Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Ahmed on August 9 as the director of one of the largest executive departments in state government following the resignation of Marianne Udow-Phillips. Ahmed has been serving as the acting director of DHS since his appointment until the Senate advisee and consent hearing.

The far-flung DHS has more than 10,000 employees and directs the operations of public assistance and service programs that includes temporary cash assistance, food assistance, childcare, child support enforcement, medical assistance, adoption and foster care services, domestic violence services, juvenile justice services and adult and children’s protective services. The DHS and former director Udow-Phillips came under fire recently for its handling of the Ricky Holland case, the 7-year-old Williamston boy who was murders by his adoptive parents in July 2005 after the parental rights of his biological parents were terminated by DHS.

Ahmed has a unique resume, and he has earned the respect of many people in Michigan with his work as the executive director and founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). It’s a private nonprofit agency that grew from a storefront operation that helped just about 125 people in 1971 to an agency with a $15-million budget that helps some 90,000 people a year. However, because ACCESS was created primarily to assist the Arab immigrant population adapt to life in America it and Ahmed have come under attack by some conservative groups and bloggers, especially following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. by Muslim extremists.

In 2002 when he ran as the Democratic nominee to the Board of Regents for the University of Michigan he was attacked by Debbie Schlussel - a conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist and attorney – as being friendly to Arab terrorist groups. Those attacks continue, but Ahmed has his defenders as well, such as veteran journalist and Wayne State University Journalism Professor Jack Lessenberry , who called Schlussel an "Ann Coulter wannabe."

The committee hearing - chaired by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids – will begin at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Senate hearing room on the ground floor of Boji Tower, 124 W. Allegan St. in downtown Lansing. The hearing, like all committee hearings, is open to the public.

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