Rehrmann Misses Chance To Gain Council's Confidence

THE OBSERVER

June 02, 1991|By Mark Guidera

To look at the resume of the recently appointed director of economicdevelopment, James D. Fielder Jr., you would easily be led to believe he has always traveled the high road, made all the right moves, so to speak.

But just last week, he made a move that may cost him andCounty Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann credibility, for a time at least, in the eyes of the business community, and certainly the County Council. He did not disclose an easily discovered fact about his business acumen: more than $200,000 in liens filed against him and others inconnection with a Bel Air radio station he once owned.

It took this newspaper to disclose that fact.

The business community cringed when the news of the liens hit the paper, mostly because Rehrmann had flubbed her first nomination for the post by naming Patricia Perluke, a woman who, we disclosed, had padded her resume forwhat the business community sees as a key government post.

And the council is steamed now because they felt that Rehrmann had tried topull a fast one on them the first time around with the Perluke nomination and some now feel they were had again.

It will be a while, Isuspect, before some members of the council will fully trust anything Rehrmann and her administrators say, and there will always be a lingering doubt in some council members' minds whether Fielder is being forthcoming, too.

Tension between the administrative and legislative branches is good. It breeds ideas and solutions. Distrust is not good. It can shipwreck a government.

Even before we found the lienssitting over at the county courthouse, some council members had said, in private, they felt uncertain about his nomination. The Perluke disaster had a kind of fallout that lingers.

Fielder looked good enough on paper. He landed his first big job in 1978 as a budget and policy analyst in the Michigan Division of Education, then moved into ajob assisting with the preparation of the University of Michigan's budget for a short stint. Then he bought into a company that supplied parts labels to car manufacturers, and earned a Ph.D. In 1988 he soldhis interest in the company, came home to his native Harford County and made a bundle purchasing and then quickly selling a Bel Air radiostation, WHRF-AM.

All the right moves. A man with a sharp business sense and on the fast track.

At least this is the image Fielder,and to an extent the county executive, wished to project to the public and the council two weeks ago when Fielder was nominated for the long-vacant job of director of economic development.

Of course, today, we know differently. We know that Fielder is not some Teflon wheeler-dealer. He made a bum move. He agreed to be guarantor on a loan for the purchasers of the radio station and, unfortunately for Fielderand anyone connected with the station, it landed in the toilet just a few months ago.

Fielder is among the guarantors stuck with more than $200,000 in liens filed in connection with loans and a revolvingline of credit for Harford County Broadcasting Inc., which operated the now dark WHRF-AM radio station in Bel Air. It's not that you would expect anyone to list in detail a bad?financial move on their resume. I wouldn't and you wouldn't.

And, any businessman with a few gray hairs will tell you, sooner or later in business you'll make a baddecision that will hit you in the pocket hard. So it's not the bad turn Fielder's financial decision turned out to be that is the rub.

The fact that Fielder made a bad personal financial decision doesn'tmean he'll make onerous decisions as economic development director. That job has more to do with "people skills."

Fielder is articulate, bright and outgoing, so he may succeed at the post.

The rub is that neither he nor Rehrmann didn't bring the fact to the council's attention during Fielder's confirmation process. It would have taken alittle humility to bring it to light. But in the end, the council probably would have viewed him and the executive as forthcoming, which may have gone a long way to restoring some badly needed goodwill between the two.

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