Last week, at the monthly meeting of the NHCAC Board of Directors, Union City Commissioner and Board of Education Secretary Chris Irizarry was appointed as the new CEO and president of NHCAC.
The NHCAC is a non-profit agency that provides health services and screenings for low-income residents, and receives funding from the state, county and municipal governments. They also have partnerships with some of the leading health organizations in the state.
"After a long search for someone to lead the variety of programs offered by NHCAC, it is my privileged duty to announce the board's approval for Commissioner Irizarry to serve as our next CEO and president," said Maria Almeida, chairperson of the NHCAC Board of Directors. "I look forward to working with Commissioner Irizarry to continue to serve the people of the varied and changing communities in North Hudson as Michael Leggiero envisioned."
Leggiero died in January of 2005 after a long battle with cancer. He served as NHCAC's CEO and president for 25 years.
"I could never fill Michael Leggiero's shoes, but I will work humbly and try to do the best I can to carry on his legacy with the same love and compassion he had for people," Irizarry said.
Last week, Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken said that all the mayors and members of the Board of Directors were behind the new appointment.
"All the mayors agreed and so did the members of the board," Turner said. "We all had the same goal to find someone who understands the needs of the community, and that the NHCAC is the lifeblood of North Hudson."
"This is a great honor for our city, and I am certain that Commissioner Irizarry will do an excellent job in serving all North Hudson residents," said Mayor Brian Stack of Union City.
North Hudson's six mayors serve on the NHCAC Board of Directors and provide a budgeted amount of funding for the agency.
After Leggiero's passing, the NHCAC had temporarily assigned Michael Shababb, who served as chief operations officer, as the interim CEO and president.
Shababb was also being considered as a permanent successor. However, not all the mayors were in agreement with this because Shababb was not a resident of Hudson County and they preferred someone from within the same district.
Another point of interest was the discovery that Leggiero was receiving an annual salary of $185,000. The mayors questioned whether the successor should receive the compensation.
"The mayors' questions are of compensationn and residency," Turner said last May.
Shababb maintained his annual salary rate of $143,000 while he served as the interim CEO and president, but then resumed his position as COO the following June with a new five-year contract and a $12,000 raise.
Ann T. Dudsak, vice president of operations, then took over as interim CEO and president until an assigned search committee could find a suitable replacement.
"We had a search committee [who did a thorough and honest search]," Turner said. "We wanted someone who lives in the area and who knew the community. Chris has the same low-key approach [as Leggiero], and he has a great team working under him."
Turner further stated that Irizarry was the perfect choice due to his years of involvement with community and civic activities, his educational background, and hard-working demeanor. Turner also feels the committee came up with a man who was very close to Leggiero.
"For me, this was more like vocational work - the reason I first came into public service, to help people," Irizarry said. "Michael Leggiero was an example to all of us that we are put on this earth with a higher purpose, and that purpose is to serve those who are less fortunate."
Irizarry has been offered a salary of $139,000 a year for the position of CEO and president. "I am comfortable with what they offered me," Irizarry said.
For the past year, Dudsak fulfilled the duties of the late Leggiero, and will now retire at the end of March. NHCAC Medical Director Dr. Jorge Verea will assume her former position as acting vice president of operations.
"[Ann Dudsak's] service to the NHCAC spans nearly 40 years, and although she announces her retirement, I am certain that her spirit and commitment to NHCAC will continue," Almeida said.
"[Over the next few months,] I will be getting acquainted with the agency, assess where we are, and see what we can do to strengthen the agency here at home," Irizarry said. "I would like to see the NHCAC expand more in this particular area."
Irizarry is currently working on fulfilling all of his remaining obligations on the Board of Education and is looking forward to applying his experience to NHCAC's programs, such as the children's Head Start and the Women Infants and Children program.
"I know the social problems of our community, and my scope will now greatly expand in helping the North Hudson community," Irizarry said. "I'm excited about it, and I'm looking forward to taking on the new challenge."
Irizarry's appointment becomes effective March 13.