A citizens panel that oversees the Carroll Department of Social Services wants to make sure that any proposed state legislation gives them a role in how their agency's top administrator is chosen.
"We've always tried to preserve the autonomy of the local boards," said David Pyle of Finksburg, a member of the department's board of directors.
Pyle is working with his colleagues from social service boards in other counties to put more local control in the bill.
The bill is being drafted by the state Department of Human Resources, under Secretary Carolyn Colvin, to be submitted to the General Assembly for the next session in January, said spokesman Clarence Brown.
The bill's goal, Brown said, is to give the secretary some input in hiring the director, because the director is a state employee working under the secretary. The Carroll Department of Social Services is the local arm of the state Department of Human Resources.
The board of directors in each county is appointed by the county commissioners to serve as a citizens advisory body. The hired director -- M. Alexander Jones in Carroll -- is the top administrator of each county's department of social services.
Brown said he was not aware of any specific problems between a state secretary and a county director that might have prompted the bill. But Pyle said the change could allow politics to affect the hiring of county directors, since the secretary is a cabinet-level position appointed by the governor.
The bill is still being revised, Brown said.
Pyle said the last draft he saw would call for the director of a county's social services department to be chosen by the state secretary and the county commissioners (or county executive, if there is one).
That draft included no role for the local boards, who now do the hiring and firing based on state guidelines. Members said at their monthly meeting last week that taking away their hiring power would in effect strip the local board of any authority, because the rest of their role is only to advise the director and County Commissioners.
"It would make the local boards rubber stamps," Pyle said at the board's monthly meeting two weeks ago. Pyle said that in previous years, similar attempts at such a bill at least gave the local board the power to veto the choice of the secretary and commissioners.
"Otherwise, it's going to become a political thing," said Carroll board chairman Richard H. Wilson of Westminster. "People (would be) appointed not because of their abilities and qualifications." He said the proposed bill could eliminate the merit system that now is used to screen applicants.
Jones, Carroll's current director, was hired two years ago by the county board. Jones said that to be considered, he first had to get on a statewide eligibility list by passing a test and holding a Maryland license in clinical social work. The director oversees all departments, such as foster care, welfare and child and adult protective services. The salary is $51,700.
When a director position is open, local boards must solicit candidates from that list. Jones was one of 23 to respond to Carroll's vacancy, he said. He was hired after a lengthy process of interviews with a screening committee and full board.
Board members are appointed to two-year terms by the County Commissioners, usually at the recommendation of the existing board. In addition to Pyle, the board is made up of Chairman Richard Wilson of Westminster, Vice Chairwoman Patricia Dorsey of Westminster, Sterling Beard of Westminster, Suzanne Goode of Sykesville, Harris Sanner of Woodbine, Mary Jane Smith of Taneytown and Charles Steinhagen of Hampstead.
County Commissioner President John L. Armacost is a member by virtue of his office, but has not attended meetings since at least April. Steinhagen is the newest member, replacing Ellen Arnold, who died this summer.