Council Skirts Partisanship Question In Appointments

Recent Testimony In Ecker Board Nominations Brings Issue To Fore

March 20, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The County Council left unanswered Monday the question of how open arole partisan politics should play in the confirmation of appointments to county boards and commissions.

New council member Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said he wants the politics to be very open and party affiliation included with a nominee's qualifications.

Both Drown and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, say politics is and should be a consideration in the selection process. "We need (representatives of) both parties on the boards," Feaga said.

The issue of party affiliation had arisen during questioning of Roger W. Jones, a nominee for reappointment to the Human Rights Commission.

During his testimony, Jones revealed that commission Chairman David Marker -- formerly a member of the local Democratic Central Committee -- was told he would not be reappointed to the commission despite having receiveda letter from County Executive Charles I. Ecker saying he would.

Marker received his reappointment letter the same time Democrat Jones got his, Jones told the council. About two weeks later, Jones said,Marker received a second letter signed by Ecker and Gail Bates, Ecker's new Republican assistant, saying Marker would not be reappointed.

There was no explanation for the change, Jones said. He said he could only assume that Bates was fulfilling her promise to start staffing boards and commissions with Republicans.

Although Republican Joan Athen agrees with council Chairman C. Vernon Gray that the council should not be told a person's party affiliation except when the lawrequires it, she said the council's "45-minute grilling" of PlanningBoard nominee Nelson Fenwick Monday was "very unkind, unreasonable and extremely partisan."

Athen, who is a nominee to the Economic Development Advisory council, said she objects to the council's new policy of interviewing appointees in public without having first met them in private.

Fenwick, who is a member of the Republican Central Committee, was the third person interviewed. No question was asked of the first person, and only one was asked of Athen, who testified ahead of him. Fenwick was in trouble from the moment he begged indulgencefor his nervousness.

"If you're nervous now, how are you going tohandle the pressure of the Planning Board?" Gray asked. Fenwick saidhe didn't know how to answer the question.

Fenwick was then askedhis views on a variety of subjects ranging from the newly adopted General Plan to adequate-facilities laws to clustered zoning for rural areas. He was basically non-committal, saying he would have to study the concepts more in-depth.

"Sounds like you're going to college without first having gone to grade school or high school," said council member Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "What planning and zoning experience do you have?"

"None," Fenwick replied. He said he had not sought the Planning Board appointment but that Ecker had come to him and asked him to serve.

Athen, who for years was chairman of the local Republican Central Committee, said a person should not have to be a professional to sit on a citizens board. It should be enough, she said, that Fenwick "is bright, articulate, has a good business backgroundand is concerned about his county and willing to devote time to it."

The council will vote April 1 on whether to accept six Ecker nominees, including the Fenwick, Athen and Jones appointments.

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