Job classification of council aides runs into politics Plan developed in closed meeting

May 03, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The County Council appears to be wavering over legislation that would elevate the job classification of its legislative assistants, making them career appointees who cannot be easily fired.

The proposal was put on the legislative docket Friday for action at tonight's meeting.

Yesterday, however, Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said the council will table the legislation until the county personnel board can review it and it can be aired at a public hearing.

"We're not trying to hide anything," Ms. Pendergrass said.

Council Republicans aren't so sure. They said yesterday they were unaware that Ms. Pendergrass plans to delay voting on the legislation.

"It's the first I've heard of it," Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said of the change. The Republicans say council Democrats crafted the legislation in a closed meeting that may have violated the state's open meeting law.

The purpose of the legislation, GOP members said, is to protect two council legislative assistants from losing their jobs should Republicans win a majority on the council in the 1994 election.

Ms. Pendergrass says the purpose of the legislation is to create "a career professional class" that would be subject to the will of the council executive secretary instead of council members.

The reason for the higher job classification, Ms. Pendergrass said, is that appointees now holding the positions would lose the ability to earn overtime and compensatory time. Even if the council approves the proposal, there is no certainty the appointees would be rehired as career staff members.

Career service vacancies must be filled from a list of at least 10 applicants.

Ms. Pendergrass said, however, that she has received conflicting opinions as to whether the creation of a career status position constitutes a vacancy in that position.

Mr. Drown would solve the problem by making current appointees exempt from the proposed law. "The assistants are doing a fine job," he said, "but I don't like saddling the next council [with people not of its own choosing] and I don't like saddling taxpayers with increased costs."

The proposed legislation has been shrouded in secrecy ever since the council first discussed it last week in a meeting closed to the public.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said he voted for the closed session because he thought the talk would be about specific individuals. Instead, the talk was about making legislative changes for a class of individuals, Mr. Feaga said. "That is not a reason for going into executive session," he said.

Mr. Feaga said he felt so deceived by the request that he may never again vote to go into executive session.

The council voted the closed session at the beginning of a public LTC work session on an administration bill that would make various changes in the status of upper-level government workers.

Ms. Pendergrass apologized to the 50 people present and asked them to leave the room so the council could deal with "a personnel matter."

Discussion of a personnel matter is one of several conditions by which a public body is allowed under the state's open meetings law to close a meeting temporarily.

Council members did not mention their proposal when they emerged from the closed session, even though on Friday they added it to the administration bill they had discussed in the work session.

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