Despite report, Ecker won't reorganize government

July 26, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker won't radically reorganize county government the way a 10-member commission he created has recommended.

Mr. Ecker also said last week that he will reserve judgment on whether county employees are paid too much until he sees a survey comparing their salaries with their counterparts in local businesses.

The total compensation package provided county employees is higher than similar compensation paid by private industry and is therefore difficult to justify, the Administrative Oversight Commission said in a two-volume report presented to Mr. Ecker June 30.

Despite forgoing raises in fiscal 1992 and undergoing a five-day, unpaid furlough, county employees still earned 6.5 percent more than their private-sector counterparts, the commission reported.

"The county should manage its pay to within 5 percent of the survey average for each salary grade -- not, as we were told, above the average," the commission said.

So-called merit raises should be given only when actually merited, and not handed out automatically, the commission said. "The merit system for pay has not in the past been a merit system at all," the commission said, "in that everyone received a flat increase whether they were marginal, average, or outstanding employees."

In addition, the county should review its policy of a 35-hour work week for 683 employees with an eye toward changing it, the commission said.

To improve performance, the government should be radically reorganized, the commission said. It advised Mr. Ecker to group county departments that deal directly with the public and put them under newly appointed directors of community affairs, public facilities and public safety. The directors and the county administrator would report to the executive directly.

"The philosophies and management style of the executive can more easily be made clear to four people . . . rather than attempting to get the understanding of 13," the commission said in its report. Currently, the county administrator, the county solicitor and 11 department heads report directly to the executive.

Commission Chairman Murray Weingarten, former president and chief executive officer of Bendix Field Engineering Corp., said that unless an executive is intimate with all 13 people, the county cannot be managed effectively.

"Only one guy has had more than one term" since the county changed from governance by commissioners to a county executive and council, Mr. Weingarten said. He thinks that trend will continue unless government is streamlined.

"When Mr. Ecker came into office, he made cuts across the board," Mr. Weingarten said. If he had had better information, those cuts would have been made in specific areas, Mr. Weingarten said.

As for the charge that the directors would be too expensive, Mr. Weingarten said that if the right people are hired, they will each save the county five to 10 times their salaries annually.

Mr. Weingarten also recommended an incentive suggestion program that would pay the maker of the suggestion 10 percent of the first year's savings. Mr. Ecker said then county is developing an incentive program, but he doubts it will be 10 percent.

The commission recommended the police and fire departments be linked with the Department of Corrections, the Communications Office, the Animal Control Office and the substance abuse coordinator under a director of public safety.

Mr. Ecker said those department heads are meeting now on a monthly basis with County Administrator Raquel Sanudo to share concerns, solve common problems, and eliminate duplication of services.

Likewise, another group of department heads -- the directors of Public Works, Planning and Zoning, and Inspections, Licenses and Permits, are also meeting monthly with Ms. Sanudo. The commission recommended those departments be combined under a director of public facilities.

The directors of Citizens Services, Recreation and Parks, and Housing and Community Development, which the commission suggested be combined under a director of community affairs, are also meeting together monthly, Mr. Ecker said.

Two commissioners issued stinging minority reports.

"I am not convinced that [county government] has to be changed at this time as drastically as the majority proposes," said Charles A. Reese. "Howard County is too small a county to need this added expense and layer of management."

Commissioner Wayne D. Albrecht said the executive was "deprived of the best possible product" because the report did not comment on fiscal issues raised by various department heads. Dealing with those issues was considered micro-management, he said.

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