Gov. Gary Herbert named Ann Silverberg Williamson, a woman central to Louisiana’s response to Hurricane Katrina who later left her job after a reportedly botched response to a subsequent storm, as his new director of the Utah Department of Human Services.
Williamson served most recently as president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations (LANO) in Baton Rouge. Before that, she was director of the state Department of Social Services under Gov. Bobby Jindal and his predecessor, Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
“Ann has a record as a visionary leader, an effective administrator, and, most important, a compassionate and caring person,” Herbert said in a statement. “She is well-suited to lead our Human Services team as they provide much-needed services for our most vulnerable citizens.”
In 2005, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered Louisiana, Williamson’s department was responsible for finding food and shelter for tens of thousands of displaced citizens and formed the nonprofit Louisiana Family Recovery Corps to help deliver services to residents.
She resigned from the department in September 2008, after being heavily criticized for the botched response to Hurricane Gustav, where residents were transported to shelters that lacked adequate toilets and showers, according to The Times-Picayune. And there were long lines for emergency food assistance in the days after the hurricane.
At the time, Jindal called the agency’s response unacceptable.
A legislative audit after Katrina also found problems in the administration of emergency food stamps, including Department of Social Services staff receiving aid despite being ineligible.
Herbert’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Mike Mower, said Williamson’s response to Gustav was considered when the governor made his selection, “but as we looked at the totality of her service and abilities, we realized she had a great deal to add to Utah’s Department of Human Services and the residents of our state.”
“She’s an incredible visionary, a dedicated leader who really cares about people with challenging needs serviced by the department,” Mower said.
He said 108 people nationwide applied for the job, 10 were interviewed and Williamson was seen as the best pick. She still must be confirmed by the state Senate.
As president and CEO of LANO, Williamson helped coordinate among the state’s various nonprofits and advocated on their behalf.
“I consider it an honor to answer the call in the realm of human services, in which I have spent my career, both in government and the private sector,” Williamson said in a statement. “I eagerly look forward to becoming a citizen of Utah and to working on a dynamic team dedicated to the common good.”
Williamson replaces Palmer DePaulis, who announced his retirement in June. DePaulis had clashed with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell over a child-protection case that spawned a criminal investigation into whether Bell abused his authority. The case was eventually closed and no charges were filed.
Williamson received her master’s degree in social work from Louisiana State University in 1998, and received a bachelor’s degree in theology from Wofford College.