Gray faults agency for firing black

March 13, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray says the failure of the Economic Development Authority to retain its only black employee raises "grave concerns" about the county's commitment to minority businesses.

Deborah L. Jenkins, one of six authority employees -- and the staff person assigned to work with the authority's Equal Business Opportunity Committee -- has, in essence, been fired, effective March 31.

Four remaining employees accepted contract offers from Executive Director Richard W. Story to continue their jobs once the authority separates from county government.

A fifth employee told Mr. Story she had obtained employment elsewhere within county government. Ms. Jenkins was not offered a contract.

Ms. Jenkins was hired as a business liaison representative in August by Mr. Story's predecessor. Mr. Story was hired Sept. 20 to oversee the change from a county-run economic development department to a quasi-governmental economic development authority, a change that becomes final at the end of the month.

Equal Business Opportunity Committee members said they were surprised to learn at their monthly meeting Wednesday that Ms. Jenkins would not be staying with the authority.

"She did a good job, was enthusiastic, cooperative and worked well with us," said Earl Saunders, chairman of the committee. "She worked fine and provided a lot of support."

Mr. Story said he could not comment on Ms. Jenkins' situation because it is a personnel matter.

Ms. Jenkins said Friday she thought she was doing a good job until receiving a negative Jan. 31 performance evaluation.

"The committee has no clear understanding of its mission . . . [and] no membership criteria," the evaluation said.

Lack of guidance cited

The evaluation summary faulted Ms. Jenkins, who was to provide direction for the committee of volunteers, for not being in control of her responsibilities with the committee. "Consequently, the committee is directionless and several members are either counterproductively free-lancing or are avoiding their assignment," the evaluation read. "While this committee has occupied an unproportionately large amount of time, this time has not been productive."

One of the directives given Ms. Jenkins in the evaluation was that "turmoil and confusion on the Equal Business Opportunity Committee must be brought under control within the next three months."

Chairman disagrees

In Ms. Jenkins' defense, committee Chairman Saunders said he was unaware of any confusion or turmoil on the committee. "If there is any, it should come directly to me because I am the chair," he said.

Mr. Saunders also said he was unaware of any lack of criteria for membership.

"When I was asked to chair the committee, [County Executive Charles I. Ecker] told me to make sure it had a cross section of people," Mr. Saunders said.

The committee, he said, was to be a multiracial panel composed of government and business people.

When asked about Mr. Gray's concerns last week, Mr. Ecker said, "I'm pleased with the committee on minority business. They are trying to help existing small businesses."

Mr. Ecker said the committee is laying the groundwork for programs to provide loans to minority businesses, help them get financing and help them learn how to bid for government contracts.

Gray questions commitment

"If the administration says the committee is doing a great job, then Ms. Jenkins is partly responsible," Mr. Gray said. "They said in their meeting last week they are very pleased with her."

Mr. Gray says Mr. Story's decision not to retain Ms. Jenkins is symbolic -- "an indication of further diminution of the county's commitment to equal business opportunity."

Mr. Gray said that he hopes Mr. Ecker will intercede and keep Ms. Jenkins on the authority's staff.

Ms. Jenkins was one of 10 finalists selected from among 200 candidates. She earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh in 1981.

Before coming to the county, she worked as a customer and governmental relations officer for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and as a marketing and customer relations officer for Houston Lighting and Power in Texas.

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