Neall Promises No Major Shake-up During Transition

November 14, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

County Executive-elect Robert R. Neall unveiled his transition plans yesterday, promising no dramatic shake-up of the outgoing Lighthizer administration.

"I don't intend to come in like a typhoon and turn anything upside down," Neall said during his first press conference in the county executive's office in the Arundel Center.

He said last week that he expects to keep most of Lighthizer's team until next summer to help him navigate union negotiations and his first budget.

Throughout his campaign, Neall pledged to bring more efficient management to the county and took special aim at the generous salaries and benefits package for top county administrators.

But he announced no plans for personnel changes and said that political appointments of agency chiefs could continue through June 1991 as a 13-member executive committee reviews county management, staffing, finances, goals and objectives.

To avoid people pursuing "hidden agendas" during the next six months, Neall said nobody on the committee will find a job in his administration.

The committee is heavily weighted with local attorneys and business owners, whom Neall said he chose for their independent opinions and guidance.

"I'm not really interested in having a bunch of people tell me what they think I want to hear," he said.

The group will be headed by Donald E. Riddle Jr., president of Homestead Gardens Nursery in Davidsonville, who served as chairman of Neall's campaign advisory committee.

Other committee members include Dallas Evans, an Annapolis Republican activist and member of the city's Black Political Forum; Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville; attorney Michael A. Pace, a former president of the Crofton Civic Association and who headed Lighthizer's transition team eight years ago; and outgoing County Councilman Michael F. Gilligan, D-Glen Burnie, who worked for Neall's campaign behind the scenes after losing in the Democratic primary.

Asked why the executive committee does not include members drawn from the leadership of county civic associations, Neall said the group is intended to "siphon and filter through all the recommendations" of 10 issues-study groups that will be named by the end of the week.

The study groups will include as many as 200 people, whom Neall said will "be replete with citizens' associations and community members and advocates for the poor." He said they will also include people active in Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, the group that backed ballot Question D, a failed effort to set a cap on county property tax revenues.

Neall, who is awaiting official confirmation of his election while his Democratic challenger seeks a ballot recount, has revealed little about his specific plans since beating outgoing County Councilman Theodore J.

Sophocleus by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.

In trademark "bureaucratese," Neall said he will focus his energies "with an eye toward closing the fiscal 1991 year in a solvent position, without any negative variances."

That means he will watch county finances closely during the economic downturn for any signs of a budget deficit.

The biggest potential drain on taxpayers' money will develop in the coming months as the county's 11,000 public employees line up for new contracts. Only one public employee union -- the professional firefighters -- endorsed Neall's campaign, while the others signed on with Sophocleus.

Gordie Hatt, a member of the union's political action committee, said election night that the firefighters received no promises from Neall but "the fire department has to grow with the county and that hasn't happened."

Whether it will happen under the new administration remains an open question, said Neall's transition chief of staff Robert Dvorak, a former fire administrator under Lighthizer who helped Neall win the union nod.

"I told the firefighters, 'If you think you're going to have a free ride (with Neall), don't expect that. Because you're going to have to go down and make your case,' " said Dvorak, who also served in senior administrative positions under Lighthizer's two Republican predecessors.

Neall made a point of singling the firefighters out in his victory speech last week, but only as a demonstration that his administration will not be hobbled by "special interests."

Councilman Edward C. "Buddy" Ahern, D-Pasadena, who lost his bid for a fifth term, praised Dvorak as a capable man to lead Neall through what are expected to be contentious labor negotiations.

After a salary freeze in 1983, when Lighthizer inherited a budget deficit, county employees, especially teachers, have won hefty raises in two three-year contracts.

But with shrinking county revenues this year, Ahern predicted Neall will face "eyeball-to-eyeball negotiations and year-by-year contracts."

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