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Mayor-Elect Evans’ Senior Staff Includes Historic Appointment

Patti Singer

Victor Saunders, left, and Malik Evans share a light moment as the mayor-elect named him special advisor on violence prevention programs. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Mayor-elect Malik Evans made history when he announced his senior administration by naming Felipe Hernandez as chief of the Rochester Fire Department.

Hernandez was among 13 individuals – some with ties to previous administrations – named by Evans at a news conference Dec. 3.

Evans takes office Jan. 1. Joining him will be:

Chief of Staff, Tamara Mayberry
Director of Human Resources, Rose Nichols
Director of Communications and Special Events, Barbara Pierce
Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Chris Wagner
Special Assistant to the Mayor, John Brach
Mayor’s Advisor on Violence Prevention Programs, Victor Saunders
Liaison to City Council, Josanne Reaves
Corporation Counsel, Linda Kingsley
Commissioner of Department of Environmental Services, Richard Perrin
Commissioner of Department of Recreation and Human Services, Shirley Green
Fire Chief, Felipe Hernandez
Director of Emergency Communications, Michael Cerreto
Interim Police Chief, David Smith

All but Wagner attended the news conference and stood behind their new boss at his campaign headquarters.

Hernandez had been named interim chief by former Mayor Lovely Warren after the retirement of Will Jackson.

Hernandez is the first Latino to be named permanent fire chief.

“Felipe is an experienced chief fire officer with a demonstrated history of working in diverse mid-sized urban communities,” Evans said, referring to Hernandez’s two-plus decades with the Rochester Fire Department.

Interim Fire Chief Felipe Hernandez, left, was appointed to the position of Fire Chief by Mayor-elect Malik Evans. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

“He also shares my vision of making sure that we get more of our city residents interested in the fire service,” Evans said. “We have to make sure that our people in our city can look at him and say, I too, one day I want to serve our city as a firefighter and also going non-traditional routes to find people … that may not even think about the fire service, and he has that ability to be able to do that.”

Evans had named Hilda Rosario-Escher as director of special projects and introduced her at the news conference. However, several hours later Evans’ communication team sent a news release that said Escher told the mayor-elect that she no longer is able to serve in the administration team.
“I wish her the best in all her endeavors,” said the statement from Evans.

Rosario-Escher did not respond to a text message requesting comment.

Evans said he made his selections based on advice from a three-term mayor who he didn’t name.

“People are going to tell you who you should pick, what you should do,” Evans said he was advised. “But at the end of the day, it is going to be your decision and there are three elements that are important. Number one, you have to trust them. Number two, they have to have good chemistry with you. And number three, they have to share your vision and values. And if you look back there, you see the mission, vision, and values of the Evans administration.”

The mayor-elect said he’d be making other appointments in the coming weeks.

“I want to thank all these talented individuals for answering the call to serve our great community,” Evans said.

Evans recited credentials of each staffer and recalled long-standing connections with several of his appointees.

The individuals appointed as commissioners – such as the fire and police chiefs, and the finance and budget directors – have to be approved by City Council.

Evans was the only speaker at the news conference and answered a few questions after he introduced the staff:

  • On the transition from current administration: Evans said he and James Smith, first the deputy mayor and now the interim mayor, meet every other week. He said they discuss current and continuing projects and COVID response.
  • On naming Green as head of DRHS: The agency has expanded its scope over the past year, after the death of Daniel Prude became public, and contains the new Person in Crisis team. Evans said he wanted the department to have a holistic approach. He said Green understands the need to have a prevention and not just intervention approach, she grasps the underlying issues and she can manage a multifaceted department.
  • On violence: Evans said he plans to use strategies that helped Newark, N.J. reduce gun violence. “Oftentimes when we hear in this community is people have all these ideas and they’re all esoteric. … what we need is practical. Things that have worked. I think that in Newark, we’ve seen some practical things that have worked. I’m impatient. I need practical things that work. If I want esoteric conversations, I will go back to university. I’ll put the patches on my elbow and we can wax poetic. We don’t have time to wax poetic because we’re costing lives.”

A few minutes after all the appointees and Evans had left and reporters asked whether anyone would be available, Saunders and Hernandez returned and answered questions as Evans’ communications staffers looked on.

Saunders, who help found Pathways to Peace, said his northeast neighborhood has seen numerous shootings. He said his job is to “put the right resources in the right places to assist individuals, to eliminating barriers that would otherwise lead them to pick up a firearm. … The violence is a symptom of a greater problem, and we want to try and achieve the best solutions for those problems to eliminate that symptom.”

Hernandez beamed as he talked about rising from firefighter to chief. “It’s truly an honor that many don’t get to experience.”

He said he wanted to increase recruitment among minorities.

“Part of it is getting the message to get people to want to become firefighters,” he said. “Being a Latino, when people could see themselves in you, then that helps with the ability to strive to move up. … When I was a firefighter on Clinton Avenue, it wasn’t that I did a better job than others, but I think as the community, when they could see themselves in you, they feel comfortable talking to you. So I think that’s why it’s important to have a diverse workforce. It just makes it better when you’re trying to communicate with the community that you’re serving.”

Here are summaries of the biographies Evans read during the news conference:

Chief of Staff, Tamara Mayberry: Nearly 20 years of government affairs and public engagement experience, with a track record of working with mayors from inside a mayor’s office. She has worked at the city, state, and federal levels — the U.S. House of Representatives, former United States Senator Harry Reid, Deputy Director of Government Affairs for the City of Chicago, Deputy Associate Director for Public Engagement for the White House National Drug Control Policy. Most recently, she has served as the Director of Government Relations for New York State Empire State Development.

Director of Human Resources, Rose Nichols, EdD: Experience in government and the not-for-profit sectors. She has worked at the United Way of Greater Rochester in various roles and served as the administrative officer under two presidential administrations in the federal government. Nichols has served as the Affirmative Action Officer for the city of Rochester. Currently, she serves as Deputy Director of Human Resources., where she has overseen many significant human capital-related initiatives.

Director of Communications and Special Events, Barbara Pierce: Experience developing teams and driving business growth for non-profit and corporate organizations. She currently serves as Chief Development Officer of the United Way of Greater Rochester.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Chris Wagner: A 30-year City of Rochester employee and has served numerous administrations Wagner served OMB as Assistant Budget Director and as budget director for the past nine years.

Special Assistant to the Mayor, John Brach: Expertise in public opinion research and strategic consulting. He has also served as chief strategist to Mayor-Elect Malik Evans. Brach brings a unique blend of data analysis and problem-solving to the many projects he has worked on over the years.

Mayor’s Advisor on Violence Prevention Programs, Victor Saunders: Former Supervisor of Youth Intervention Specialists for the Pathways to Peace Youth Initiative. He helped launch Pathways to Peace and served for 16 years. Currently, Saunders serves as the Socio-Emotional Specialist Team Leader at the Center for Youth Services at Roberto Clemente School 8. Saunders has over 30 years of experience working with those at high risk of behavioral issues, violence, and gang involvement.

Liaison to City Council, Josanne Reaves: She spent over 17 years as Executive Director of Leadership Rochester, a program that inspires, connects, and educates a vibrant, diverse network of individuals who provide leadership to transform and strengthen the Greater Rochester Region. Reaves also spent 12 years as a Legislative Aide to Rochester City Council and has served on Sector 4 Community Development Corporation and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Corporation Counsel, Linda Kingsley, ESQ: More than 35 years of experience in state and local government law. She has served as pro bono counsel to the Rochester City Council for the past year, served as Corporation Counsel of the city of Rochester for 12 years, and as Corporation Counsel for the city of Binghamton before that. She was Counsel to the New York State Conference of Mayors and maintained a legal practice in Albany, New York. She has been a frequent speaker and trainer on various subjects, including disaster preparedness, eminent domain, risk management, labor and personnel issues, and municipal/police liability.

Commissioner of Department of Environmental Services, Richard Perrin: Served as a Regional Planner for Genesee Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council. He also spent 14 years at the Genesee Transportation Council, serving as executive director for almost 12 years. Perrin is currently the Associate Vice President and Director of Planning Services for T.Y. Lin International.

Commissioner of Department of Recreation and Human Services, Shirley Green EdD: Spent the last 29 years serving in public education as teacher, assistant principal, principal, executive director of specialized services and currently chief of schools where she oversees over 20 schools and programs. Green is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, which provides service to the community.

Fire Chief, Felipe Hernandez: Spent the previous 22 years with the Rochester Fire Department. Hernandez has served in several roles, including firefighter, lieutenant in the training division, captain and lieutenant of suppression division, deputy chief of training, deputy chief of emergency management, deputy chief of suppression division, executive deputy chief, and for this past year interim fire chief.

Director of Emergency Communications, Michael Cerreto: More than 30 years with the New York State Police rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Cerreto was director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services for the New York State Police. For the past three years, he has served as director of the Emergency Communication Department, overseeing all aspects of emergency communications, coordinating 911 functions for city police and fire, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, various town and village police and fire departments, and ambulance corps.

Interim Police Chief, David Smith: Served in various positions with Rochester Police Department for 29 years. He has most recently served as Deputy Chief of Operations. He will serve as Interim Police Chief until Mayor-Elect concludes a search and names a permanent chief of police.