Neall Transition Team Sets Priorities


County executive Robert R. Neall's transition team yesterday urged greater coordination of environmental protection, control of school spending and a review of the county's merit system aimed at making it easier to fire rank-and-file employees.

After six months of study, the 13-member panel released a 66-page report recommending that county agencies develop mission statements and an annual survey to evaluate public services.

The report, culled from analyses conducted by 275 citizen volunteers on 17 subcommittees, found that county government is basically sound. But the transition group concluded that Neall must improve environmental protection and management of the Board of Education budget.

"The administration must hold a firm commitment of preventing growth and development which is destructive to the environment and our quality of life while, with equal commitment, seeking to attract and nurture . . . growth which contributes positively to a cleaner, better organized and more productive environment," the report said.

At the same time, the panel said that Neall should strengthen private-sector efforts to create a more diversified economy.

Consistent with Neall's election pledge to better manage the environment, the report recommended he hire a land-use and environmental administrator to implement his goals and act as liaison between the regulatory agencies.

Other environmental recommendations include:

* Hiring an attorney in the Office of Law to deal with landfillsand other waste issues.

* Improving training and decreasing reliance on promotion from within.

* Accelerating the subdivision approval process and increasing productivity through more automation.

Expanded computerization throughout county government was also singled out by the panel as a major need.

The report addressed the school budget process in several sections.

The one-page review of the Office of the Budget recommended the board and Anne Arundel Community College participate in Neall's fall strategic planning conference and submit their budgets in January, two months earlier than current practice.

The school board, whichspends about 55 percent of the county operating budget, is an area "over which the county executive, in truth, has very limited control," the panel said.

The report called for greater coordination between the school board and the county, including combination of insurance, maintenance, purchasing and payroll services.

"I think at the very least that you need better communication and collaboration on the budget process," said Neall, who is not bound by the advisory report. "As soon as I was elected, I gave the school board a briefing on our finances. I'm not sure that's happened before."

Both Neall and the County Council have complained about the board's reliance on fourth-quarter budget transfers to bail it out of annual deficits.

But school board President Nancy Gist said she was not concerned that the report recommended reigning in the school system's independence.

"I think it's part of fiscal responsibility," she said. "I don'tthink this is a secret effort to usurp programming power."

The report strongly endorsed the $50 million school computerization plan.

The panel also recommended that the merit system be changedto make it easier to fire rank-and-file county employees.

The panel wrote that the merit system "has many times been used to shield public employees from dismissal long after there is a reasonable degree of evidence that they should be removed for the good of the organization."

Neall, noting that he criticized public employee privileges when he served as minority leader in the House of Delegates, expressed accordwith the panel's conclusion.

"I have my own opinion of the merit system and collective bargaining," he said. "I don't supportit."

Neall said that union system creates an adversarial relationship between workers and managers that hurts the public.

An official of the county's largest union disagreed with Neall. "That's bad. My reactionis 'Uh-oh,' " said James Bestpitch, vice president of local 582 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

"Idon't have any idea where that came from or what they're talking about," he said. "Lord knows that they have no problem dismissing our people now."

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