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Livingston County Veterans Services Director departs abruptly

Mary Durst


The head of Livingston County Veterans Services has left the position, the third leader in a row to leave under less than auspicious circumstances.

According to a statement on the department’s Facebook page, Director Mary Durst submitted her resignation during the April 20th Veterans Services Committee meeting.

“The Committee and the staff of the office express their sincere gratitude to Mary for her hard work, dedication, and commitment to Livingston County’s veterans throughout her time as Director,” read the statement. “Mary’s tenacity and perseverance to improve the lives of our local veterans was inspiring. We wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

However, no specific reason for her abrupt departure was provided.

Durst came on board in 2018 after the firing of former director Adam Smiddy. No official reason was provided for his termination by either the committee or county officials. However, Smiddy maintained his firing was the direct result of his efforts to determine exactly what happened to cash and other items donated to the department by a local resident who said she could not obtain a receipt despite repeated attempts to do so.

Smiddy said he was unwilling to play “good ole boys club” when it came time to delivering services and noted instances of specific mechanics and contractors always being used but were not necessarily better for the funds being spent or the outcome they were getting.

He later filed suit in Livingston County Circuit Court against both the county and Hansel Keene, the one-time chair of the veterans committee who was accused of accepting the funds and not providing proper documentation. Keene later decided not to seek another term leading the board. The lawsuit was  eventually dismissed following an out-of-court settlement.

Smiddy was preceded by Jon Waggoner, who also left abruptly under circumstances that were never disclosed.

As for Durst’s departure, the Veterans Services statement said that during the transition, their Office would be “focused on continuing to provide detailed, compassionate, and timely service to meet the needs of our veterans.”

However, it noted that due to a large increase in need for services, “residents may encounter longer than normal waiting times for appointments. We anticipate this longer waiting period will be short lived as we are in the process of hiring an Administrative Aide and another Veterans Benefits Counselor. We are honored to serve our veterans and their families and always strive to meet and exceed their expectations. Our highly trained and dedicated staff are here for you and will help you explore and obtain the veterans benefits you have earned.”

Judy Daubenmier, Chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party has been a long-time critic of the office’s operations. She says this latest leadership change is part of an unfortunate pattern.
“It’s sad to see this office, which is so crucial to our veterans, once again in turmoil,” she said. “The county commission is about to ask voters to renew the millage that funds these services, but before it does so, it owes the public a full, in-depth explanation of what happened in this case and why the office has continuing turnover. Otherwise, I wonder if voters will want to continue their support.”

A message seeking comment has been sent to both Livingston County Veterans Services and Livingston County Administrator Nathan Burd.

However, Veterans Services Committee Chair Joseph Riker has since posted on Facebook that Durst left for personal reasons and that she “will continue to stay on board for 30 days to help transition duties and has committed to assisting the next director once hired. She has also requested to be a volunteer for the office moving forward and has expressed interest as being a committee member if the opportunity presents itself in the future.”

 

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