Gray resists Ecker's plan to add appointee posts

April 20, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker's plan to increase the number of political appointees in county government hit a snag last night.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, wanted to know why the administration thought it was necessary to change the status of the five bureau chiefs in the Department of Public Works.

The answer, said James M. Irvin, public works director, lies in the functions they perform. The chiefs of the bureaus of construction inspection, engineering, environmental services, highways and utilities are more like deputies, he said. Deputy department heads, like their bosses, are appointed.

In the public works department, bureau chiefs supervise large numbers of employees, administer large budgets and have more responsibility than some department heads, Mr. Irvin said. Also, all have the same pay scale as appointed officials. "The principal element is equity," he said.

In that case, maybe the county should lower the scale or eliminate bureau chiefs in other departments, Mr. Gray said. "They're doing OK [as bureau chiefs] now, aren't they? They can still function [without becoming appointees]."

The bill would exempt current public works bureau chiefs. Only their successors would become appointees. If enacted, the bill would swell to 44 the number of employees appointed by the county executive.

Bureau chiefs are classified employees, meaning that they cannot be summarily fired.

Mr. Gray also objected to the administration's desire to take $276,000 from contingency reserves and use it to pay salaries in five other departments.

The county budgets only 99.5 percent of its salary needs each year because it expects that enough savings will be generated through attrition to cover the remaining half percent, Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said.

This year, however, there were "unforeseen emergencies and things that violate the law of averages," Mr. Wacks said, &L including "a very depressed employment market."

Normal attrition did not occur, and in one department alone -- Inspections, Licenses and Permits -- salaries were "underbudgeted by $100,000," Mr. Wacks said. Some of the money would be used for longevity pay and so-called premium pay for employees with special skills, he said.

"I can understand needing more money for overtime," Mr. Gray said. "[But] I don't see how you can have a shortage for premium pay and longevity pay. I just don't see it. It says something about your budgeting procedures."

Said Mr. Wacks, "We put in what we thought was a reasonable amount." He said that all other departments -- except the police department, the state's attorney's office, the sheriff's department, the office of soil conservation and the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits -- "were OK."

Also, the administration asked the council for permission to use contingency reserves to cover three other emergencies. It said it needs $45,000 more to pay legal costs related to labor relations; $18,000 more to make an emergency upgrade of computers in District Court; and $450,000 to pay for last month's snow removal.

State's Attorney William Hymes told the council the District Court computers need an emergency upgrade because they don't have the capacity to hold all the material they are required to hold. "We're going to try to get through this fiscal year by tinkering with the equipment," he said.

The fiscal year ends June 30.

The council will hold a work session on the requests Monday night and vote on them May 3.

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