Move By Court Clerk Is Devine Inspiration

December 13, 1990|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A decade ago, Donald J. Devine went to Washington on a mission to streamline the federal work force. Supporters said his austerity campaign, which included wage and benefit cuts for government employees, was worth $18 billion in taxpayer savings.

But critics said Devine, in his zeal to slash expenses by radically reforming the federal bureaucracy, went overboard and created serious morale problems among a work force of 3 million. In an ultimately successful effort to derail Devine's nomination for a second term as President Reagan's director of the Office of Personnel Management, members of a U.S. Senate committee described him as hostile and antagonistic to federal workers.

In the words of an official from a union representing federal employees, Devine was "blatantly anti-worker."

Devine now has brought his personnel management skills -- or, if his critics are to be believed, his lack of regard for the dignity of the working man -- to Anne Arundel County. The 53-year-old Shady Side resident, now a political consultant, is the man behind the scenes in new county Clerk of Circuit Court Mary R. Rose's effort to oust three career employees with a combined eight decades at the courthouse.

Hired by Rose as an adviser for her transition -- out of her own pocket, she says -- Devine said he toured the courthouse and interviewed employees before recommending that Rose waste no time in issuing a demand to the three employees: Resign or retire -- or be fired.

Two of the employees make about $36,000 a year; the other's salary is about $48,000.

In a telephone interview this week, Devine said, "I suggested she take some other personnel actions, too, but she said she wanted to minimize the changes in the interest of harmony."

Rose said she acted based on advice from Devine and a transition team -- although some on the 10-member transition team have not met or done any work.

Marjorie S. Holt, a former seven-term Republican congresswoman and a former clerk of the county circuit court, answered with a curt "no" when asked if Rose had asked her for any advice since the election. As a congresswoman in a district with a large number of federal employees, Holt butted heads with Devine over his plans to reduce retirement benefits for government workers.

Rose, a Republican who upset Democratic incumbent H. Erle Schafer by a wide margin in last month's election, has chosen to rely on Devine. She worked for him in the Office of Personnel Management.

"I think his experience is excellent and I recognize his management abilities," Rose said last week. "I listen to some of the things he says and I make my own decisions."

Timothy D. Murnane, unsuccessful Republican candidate for county state's attorney last month and a member of County Executive Robert R. Neall's transition team, said county residents are fortunate that such a "brilliant manager," one of the best in the country, has turned his attention to the clerk's office. He said he supports Rose's actions.

But Carroll L. "Bunky" George II, the chief deputy clerk who was one of the three courthouse employees asked to leave, curls his lip in disdain when he describes how "Dr. Devine" interviewed him for 90 minutes as part of his research. George, 54, has been chief deputy for four years; he has worked in the courthouse for 29 years.

On her first day on the job Dec. 3, Rose told the shocked employees -- George and two of four assistant chief deputies -- their terms ran "concurrent" to the previous clerk's and that she did not intend to reappoint them.

"There was more than incompetence taken into consideration," she said in explaining her move. She said such factors as trustworthiness, performance and attendance were also considered.

The attendance factor was apparently a reference to Bolton H. "Buster" Rankin, 50, an assistant chief deputy who was told to retire. Rankin said he worked only 76 days from last May through October because he was out for more than 40 days on sick leave. He said he had, in his decades at the courthouse, built up more than 260 days of sick leave by the start of 1990.

The employees say Rose gave them an hour to clean out their desks. But, under orders from Bruce C. Williams, the county's administrative circuit court judge, they have remained officially on the job, though they say they have been forbidden to sign documents.

The employees say newly inaugurated court clerks in the past have transferred employees -- offering chief deputies a chance to move to a lower position, for example -- but have not fired them. This claim was confirmed by Judith McHenry, George's predecessor as chief deputy clerk, and E. Aubrey Collison, who preceded Schafer as clerk.

The employees have chalked up Rose's move to a political vendetta, a charge she denies. They have filed discrimination complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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