Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean calls it a "reorganization." City Hall insiders say it's a "purge." Still others say the recent staff changes in the comptroller's office are business as usual -- political business, that is.
In a series of personnel actions, Mrs. McLean has significantly increased the number of jobs over which she has sole control to hire and fire. They include the city auditor, the real estate officer and deputy comptroller -- jobs that for more than two decades fell within the protection of the civil service system.
Mrs. McLean also abolished several other key administrative posts, leaving three veteran city employees jobless.
One city councilman warned that the changes in the auditor's office could compromise the agency's independence in pursuing sensitive financial and performance reviews.
But Mrs. McLean said she is "only trying to bone up and increase the efficiency of the office." The personnel changes "had absolutely nothing to do with anyone who worked in the comptroller's office;" her transition team recommended them, she said.
The three veteran civil servants who lost their jobs in the reorganization learned of their fates in terse letters May 26.
They are Deputy Auditor Bert Finkelstein, 61; Assistant Comptroller Erwin A. Burtnick, 48; and Ronald Brown, the 45-year-old director of the municipal telephone exchange. Among them, the men have 55 years of service with the city.
The terminations of Mr. Finkelstein and Mr. Burtnick prompted state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, to write to Mrs. McLean, expressing "grave concerns" from the Jewish community.
"Within the Jewish community there is some sense that there had been an agreement that there would not be 'wholesale dismissal' of Jewish employees," Mrs. Hoffman's June 2 letter said.
Mrs. McLean said she has kept her promise: Only one Jewish employee, Mr. Burtnick, has lost his job. The comptroller said she agreed to find another post for Mr. Finkelstein, who is 10 months shy of reaching 62 when he can qualify for early retirement benefits under Social Security.
Both Mr. Finkelstein, who audits some of the city's most complex lease agreements, and Mr. Burtnick, who as a former city auditor helped uncover the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in city funds, have declined to comment on the advice of their attorneys.
In all, Mrs. McLean abolished seven jobs and created eight new ones. The reorganization will net a yearly payroll savings of about $19,000 -- a mere pittance in the comptroller's $13.2 million annual budget that includes 102 positions.
"To me, it's standard operating procedure in both the public and private sector," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, referring to the comptroller's reorganization.
But Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, expressed concern that the removal of the city auditor from merit system protection could compromise the office's independence as it reviews the finances and performance of city agencies.
He noted that "Government Auditing Standards," the bible of the profession, stresses the importance of an "an arm's length" relationship between auditors and the agencies they review.
In fact, the auditing standards say more: Internal auditors should "be sufficiently removed from political pressures" and "whenever feasible, they should be under a personnel system in which compensation, training, job tenure and advancement are based on merit."
Added Mr. Ambridge: "Through the years, I have been complaining that too many employees are being shifted into the exempt, political-appointee status."
During the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the shift has been sizable.
From 1932 -- when the "exempt" class was created -- until 1987, only 10 job classifications were designated to "serve at the pleasure" of the mayor or other appointing officer.
Since Mr. Schmoke took office in December 1987, 70 other job classifications have been added to the exempt list.
Mrs. McLean defended the reorganization last week, saying that in some cases employees became "entrenched" in a particular position. That results in "inefficiency and I did not want that to happen," Mrs. McLean said.
The comptroller also said she wanted to create promotional opportunities for present supervisors in an effort to retain certified public accountants in the agency.
The personnel moves in the comptroller's office followed the December retirement of Deputy Comptroller Richard A. Lidinsky, who served in the post for nearly 30 years. Mrs. McLean has not yet replaced him.