Dissent surfaces with council's committee assignments

January 15, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Two months after the election of a County Council whose members promised to bring unity, open discussion and cooperation, signs of divisiveness continue to develop in the seven-member panel.

The latest incident involves a little-known executive committee, from which Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton was removed in short order Tuesday night by a 7-0 vote.

Mrs. Heselton and former Councilman Philip Barker were appointed to the Local Emergency Planning Committee by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann in March 1991. The panel, formed under a mandate from the federal Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act of 1986, coordinates planning for chemical emergencies and dissemination of information on hazardous materials usage and storage in Harford County.

The committee has about 30 members from fire and police services, industry, civil defense, schools, the Health Department and other relevant agencies.

Mrs. Heselton was replaced on the committee by Council President Joanne S. Parrott and Councilman Barry Glassman.

She said it was not so much the fact that she was replaced after four years on the committee that disturbed her as the manner in which it was done. She insists that it's the county executive's prerogative to appoint representatives to the executive committee, not the council's. And she says she was not aware that anyone else on the council wanted the position or wanted her removed until Tuesday night's meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, after the council had acted on new and unfinished business on its agenda, Councilman Mark S. Decker moved to nominate Mr. Glassman as the council's representative to the LEPC, with Mrs. Parrott as the alternate. The only discussion was from Mrs. Heselton, who objected that the appointment must be made by the executive as in 1991.

But county director of administration Larry Klimovitz, asked to clarify the administration's position as Mrs. Rehrmann's spokesman, said he believed the council could make the appointment.

The council, including Mrs. Heselton, then voted 7-0 for Mr. Glassman's appointment.

Despite her vote, the councilwoman later insisted that she is being systematically stripped of her committee and commission posts.

"That was my last committee," she said, noting that in earlier meetings of the new council she was replaced as the council's representative on at least three other commissions. The other re-elected council members, Mr. Glassman and Robert S. Wagner, have kept the same committee jobs they held during their previous terms.

Mrs. Heselton said her ouster also was disturbing because she had called Mr. Klimovitz "weeks ago" to say she would like to remain on the committee as the county executive's appointment.

"This council is being led by a three-person personnel committee, not by open discussion among the council," Mrs. Heselton said.

The personnel committee, created last month, consists of Mr. Decker, Mr. Glassman and Mrs. Parrott.

Mr. Decker said later that he nominated Mr. Glassman because Mr. Glassman asked him. "It was not a last-minute thing, but Mr. Glassman and Mrs. Parrott have expressed interest in being on that committee because of their association with the fire companies. There was no subversive action intended."

The action, which was not on the council's published agenda, surprised others as well.

"We were not aware this was going to happen," Mr. Klimovitz said after the meeting.

Mrs. Rehrmann, after researching the law Friday, said appointments to the commission are not hers to make, but are the responsibility of the state Emergency Response Commission.

Despite the fact that she sent personal letters to Mr. Barker and Mrs. Heselton in 1991 appointing them to the local committee, she said, she doesn't expect to be making any more appointments. "I expect the council to make their recommendations directly to the state commission," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Klimovitz said he could not recall a discussion about the committee position with Mrs. Heselton or anyone else, and was unaware that the issue would be raised until Mr. Decker's motion Tuesday.

Mrs. Parrott said Mr. Glassman's interest in serving on the committee was not sudden. She said he distributed a memo to council members four weeks ago expressing his interest in it.

In addition, she said, she sent a memo to Mr. Klimovitz about Mr. Glassman's interest in the committee, "and Mr. Klimovitz said it was fine, go ahead with it."

But Mrs. Parrott said the nomination was a surprise to her: "I heard five minutes before the meeting that the issue was going to be brought up. But there was nothing procedurally wrong with that motion. In fact, my reaction was that it was very spontaneous, and that's the way things should happen. If anyone had any objections, they could have made them. But the vote was 7-0."

Mr. Decker said, "There are changes taking place as a result of the election and some people are aggrieved by that. But we're not sitting behind closed doors discussing things."

Mr. Wagner, who seconded the motion to nominate Mr. Glassman, said he was unaware the appointment was the county executive's. "I had no reason to believe it was anything else but a council appointment," he said later.

He, too, said he is concerned about the personnel committee. Near the end of Tuesday's meeting, he asked the three-member panel to keep council members informed.

"I just think we should be kept up to date more with briefings or something," Mr. Wagner said Friday. "There are a lot of things coming up . . . We have to advertise for a council secretary, the auditor's position is still open, and the council's [proposed] budget is due at the administration soon.

"The committee has already had several meetings," Mr. Wagner said. But there have been limited discussions on what they're doing, and I don't want any surprises."

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