Chuck Ecker's appointment of Joanne Nelson as Howard County's new personnel director raises serious questions, once again, about the executive's vision of local government.
Nelson, who took office May 1, will be responsible for running the county's personnel system -- including job classification, benefits programs and labor relations. So critical is the post that the county code specifies the person who holds it must have six years of "increasingly responsible experience in personnel management" as well as a "comprehensive knowledge of principles and practices of public personnel management." Councilman Paul Farragut, among others, is unconvinced that Nelson -- a former Equitable Bank vice president and close friend of Michael W. Davis, an Ecker campaign manager -- has the proper qualifications. He has asked for a legal opinion from the county solicitor.
The Nelson brouhaha comes in the wake of a political storm over Ecker's appointment of developer John Mardall as administrative assistant. The executive rescinded the offer when it became public that Mardall not only had no experience as a public administrator but also that he had agreements with the county which, as the top adviser in policy and budget matters, he could have been in a position to affect. The executive has since named Raquel Sanudo to the post, but the incident raised doubts about Ecker's leadership abilities which have only been exacerbated by the Nelson appointment.
No matter what happens with Nelson, the success of the Ecker administration will depend on whether the executive can shake the grip of his campaign supporters and implement an agenda that reflects the public's priorities. He is off to a shaky start.