Jackie McLean's House Cleaning

June 23, 1992

During her campaign for city comptroller last fall, Jacqueline McLean pledged that things would change if she was elected. Now, some six months after she succeeded Hyman Aaron Pressman, a Baltimore institution in that job for 28 years, heads have begun to roll. Three senior officials have been let go. She calls the staff changes a "reorganization." Her critics say it is a "purge."

Mrs. McLean says "the matter of my trying to get more efficiency" was behind the termination of Deputy Auditor Bert Finkelstein, Assistant Comptroller Erwin A. Burtnick and Ronald Brown, the head of the municipal telephone exchange. "When I ran for the office, I told people we are going to make changes, we are going to be more efficient. I am just doing what I promised," Mrs. McLean explains.

Each office holder determines priorities and wants to choose his or her top command. Mr. Pressman did it in his days, Mrs. McLean does it now. We have no problem with that. We are concerned, however, that realizing she could not appoint her own top people at will, she decided to circumvent civil service rules and created vacancies by abolishing existing positions.

Her Machiavellian solution follows a potentially dangerous practice that has become increasingly common during the five years of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration. From 1932 to 1987, only 10 job classifications existed that were designed to "serve at the pleasure" of the mayor or other appointing officer. Since Mr. Schmoke took office, however, 70 other job classifications have been added to the exempt list.

Additionally, Mr. Schmoke has for three years circumvented the intent of the city charter by having a de facto health commissioner who does not meet legal requirements because he is not a medical doctor. The mayor says he sees nothing wrong with the arrangement because his intention is to change the charter so that the position would be open to health professionals other than physicians. The fact is, however, that that is not what the current charter says and that disregarding the charter encourages other municipal officials to overlook it also in matters big and small.

Mrs. McLean says she wanted to remove the positions of her top aides from civil service because it restricts her too much and "that type of a mindset has led to a great deal of inefficiency." In some cases, perhaps. But in the cases of Messrs. Finkelstein and Burtnick, it could be argued that civil service protection encouraged those men to be independent even when Mr. Pressman's illness could easily have led to outside political interference.

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