Despite the risks, 224 apply for job of Howard council administrator

January 23, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The ad seeking applicants for the council administrator's job said it pays $55,918 and up, depending upon experience.

That was enough to draw 224 applicants from all over the state and from as far away as Florida, Alabama, Georgia and West Virginia to fill the vacancy left by the firing of former administrator Sheila Tolliver last month.

The level of applications is 43 percent higher than in January 1993, the last time the Howard County Council had to fill the position.

Although the council would not release the names of the current applicants, they include office managers, real estate salespeople, lawyers, employees from other counties and retired military, civil and federal workers.

But those applicants may not know all that's in store for them -- particularly the fact that the administrator can be fired on a whim by the council.

Skills are important, said Art Griffin, chief of the classification and pay section of the county personnel office, but "the bottom line is that this position can be viewed as political."

Indeed it can. Applicants don't have to go through a competitive process when hired and they don't have to go through a review process when fired. They can be dismissed on the spot.

That's what happened to Ms. Tolliver, an Anne Arundel County Democrat fired for political reasons after Republicans assumed command of the five-member council. Ms. Tolliver had held the job for 20 months.

To fill her vacancy, the county's personnel office has been asked to give the council a list of 20 finalists with administrative and legislative experience. Finalists also are expected to have supervisory, budgetary and writing skills and "some political awareness."

If it were not an appointed position, council members would have to interview all 20 candidates and find them wanting before looking at anyone else who applied. But since the job is political, council members will be given the names of all 224 applicants. They can choose to interview anyone they want.

Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga doesn't like that procedure, however. The 5th District Republican would have preferred to look only at local people, but the council voted otherwise.

"I am certain that we have someone in Howard County who can fill that job," he said.

Mr. Feaga considers the job of council administrator as analogous to a presidential cabinet post in terms of intimacy. "I wouldn't rule out a Democrat," he said, but "party affiliation could make a difference." Mr. Feaga's first choice is to look locally and hire a Republican.

That may happen eventually -- but not until the council reviews the list of all 224 applicants, makes its own list of finalists and conducts interviews, which are expected to begin in mid-February. A new administrator could be hired by mid-March.

Acting administrator Ronald S. Weinstein, who sat in on the interviews when the council hired Ms. Tolliver, said council members will look for management experience and good interpersonal skills.

"Legislative experience helps -- dealing with laws, processing laws, somebody who knows that kind of process," he said. But "relating to council members is probably the most important -- finding someone who can deal with them all."

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