Auditor praised as council administrator

January 09, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

When the Howard County Council needs someone to keep things running in an emergency, members know who to call: the county auditor.

In the past five years, Ronald Stuart Weinstein has donned the cloak of council administrator three times on a temporary basis -- most recently last month, when the Republican-dominated council fired Democrat Sheila Tolliver for political reasons.

As administrator, he's in charge of the council's logistics and daily routine -- everything from the computer system to the meeting agenda. All in all, however, he'd rather be auditing somebody.

"Being an auditor is very organized," says Mr. Weinstein. "But with the council, you are doing so many things at the same time. It keeps the mind going 24 hours a day thinking of things that need to get done."

Running the council office "is a lot more sophisticated" than managing his staff of five auditors, he says, because "a lot more things can break down. It is more complicated to keep everything up and going."

Take last week, for example. Mr. Weinstein was told to find some used computers for council members to use. Though he came up with a few machines being phased out by other offices, none matched those the council already had, so Mr. Weinstein had to rewire everything.

He's had plenty of time to learn what he needs to know as the council's chief assistant. With a total of nine months in three stints as acting administrator, Mr. Weinstein could end up having served more time in the job than some people hired permanently.

"He can go from one job to another, and you get great answers no matter how different the question," says Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, 5th District Republican.

"Ron is always Ron. That's the constant. He inspires trust and gives everyone a good feeling."

It's a reputation Mr. Weinstein has worked hard to build in the 10 years since he was hired by the council as its chief watchdog over the county administration. He took office at a time when relations between the council and then-county Executive J. Hugh Nichols had almost broken down.

The Nichols administration was still reeling from the theft of several hundred thousand dollars by two cashiers in the Finance Department, who were fired and prosecuted. Council members were looking to fire more people.

The council convinced state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to reopen the case and directed the newly hired Mr. Weinstein to assist in that investigation.

Mr. Weinstein, then on the job a week, sought to rebuild rapport by meeting with then-Finance Director Darrel Campbell. "You have a job to do, and I have a job to do," he told Mr. Campbell. "Things will be much easier if we help each other."

They did. And during that investigation, Mr. Weinstein established an auditing procedure that allows the department being audited to make remarks in the auditor's final report.

"It's easy to say the other side is wrong until you work with the other side," Mr. Weinstein says.

"I want the other side to see and review the reports, rather than throw them out to the press without giving people a chance to defend themselves.

"The central thing is to see what's wrong and fix it. And the only way to fix it is with both sides working together," he says.

It's an approach that draws praise -- even from the administration.

"He is probably the most effective auditor I've ever seen," says County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks, whose work is scrutinized by Mr. Weinstein every spring.

"He does more to monitor problems and achieves more in solving them than most people -- which is also a skill that makes him the No. 1 backup to the county administrator."

L Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, 4th District Democrat, agrees.

"He's a terrific guy with a great ability to work with people in every circumstance," she says. "He is tremendously effective and a hard worker."

The council is unlikely to keep Mr. Weinstein in the administrator's job permanently, however. Council members hope to begin interviewing candidates by the end of this month and settle on a new administrator by March.

Applicants for the job, which has a salary that ranges from $55,918 to $80,959 a year, have until Jan. 16 to apply.

Until a new administrator is picked, Mr. Weinstein, who does not receive extra money for doubling as council administrator, will shuttle back and forth between his $80,959-a-year auditor job on the second floor of the county office building and the council office on the first floor.

He hopes the commute will be short enough for him to renew his spring ritual of analyzing the county budget for the council. Mr. Weinstein is probably the only person in county government who looks forward to the budget cycle.

"As an auditor, you're dealing with things that happened in the past," he says.

"But with the budget, you're back in the live mode again -- dealing with what's hot, what's new.

"It's sort of like basic training in the Army," Mr. Weinstein says. "You hated it at first, but in the end, it felt like a pretty good workout."

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