Firing appears least likely option to lessen work force Numbers show practice not common in county

November 05, 1995|By DAN MORSE | DAN MORSE,SUN STAFF

Run government like a private business. Make bureaucrats more accountable. Get the most for your tax dollars.

You've heard those recent calls from politicians. Listen to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker in an interview last month: "There was a time when if you had a government job, you always had one. That's gone right now."

He envisions a smaller but more effective county work force. But the history in Howard, as well as other suburban Baltimore-area counties, suggests that one valuable tool -- firings -- is not a viable option.

Only three workers from Howard's 1,850 person government staff were fired last fiscal year, said Jimmie Saylor, director of the county Personnel Office.

The rates of firings weren't much higher in other area counties during the last fiscal year, with all but Harford County falling well below 1 percent of work forces.

Over the next 20 months, Mr. Ecker wants to cut 12 percent from the county's budget for everything but schools and debt. This may mean getting rid of some county employees via layoffs. His dilemma: How to increase at the same time the county work force's efficiency.

Mr. Ecker will hire a consultant to help answer that. He would not say whether there should be more than three government workers fired each year.

She noted that three brings does not take into account people who were forced to resign. "Some people are counseled out," he said.

But he also acknowledged that county supervisors are discouraged from firing workers because in past cases they have spent so much time filling out paperwork and testifying before the county personnel board.

Meanwhile, since 1991, when Mr. Ecker was forced to lay off 29 county employees, he actually has increased the county's work force by 13.8 percent -- from 1,725 workers to 1,964 workers. During that same time, the county's population increased by 9.2 percent -- meaning it likely needed additional workers.

Firms vie for contract

Eight companies already have pitched proposals to the county to study whether its personnel system can be changed. Their bids were opened Oct. 27 but the contract has not been awarded. Raquel Sanudo, county administrator, last week would not say how much it will cost.

"We're not out to fire anyone," Ms. Sanudo said, in tune with Mr. Ecker.

But C. Vernon Gray, a member of the Howard County Council, is skeptical. He worries that the consultant will recommend ways to more easily sack workers. "I think that is part and parcel of the whole plan," he said.

Mr. Gray said he will fight changes in county personnel laws that provide for appeals to the county personnel board and make firings a time-consuming, often difficult process.

Ned Eakle, a member of the personnel board, acknowledged that firing a government worker is more difficult than firing a union worker in a private business. He said county workers need protection from politics. "Government isn't really a business," he said.

Firings numbered

Other Baltimore-area counties also had relatively few firings of county workers last fiscal year:

* In Anne Arundel, 12 of the county's 3,600 government workers -- or 0.3 percent -- were fired said Tricia Hopkins, a personnel analyst.

* In Carroll County, fewer than five of the county's 698 workers -- 0.7 percent -- were fired, said Beverly Billingslea, a county spokeswoman.

* In Baltimore County, 29 of the county's 7,200 workers -- 0.4 percent -- were fired, said Jo Anne Kincer, chief of personnel records.

* In Harford County, 13 of the county's 1,231 workers -- 1.1 percent -- were fired, said Randall Schultz, director of Human Resources.

Mobility to be studied

Meanwhile, the consultant to be hired by Howard also win study ways to decrease the number of job classifications and broadening them to make it easier to move workers around to different jobs Ms. Sanudo said. This would fit with Mr. Ecker's plan to cut county spending through attrition.

Mr. Ecker also wants the consultant to study the county's yearly evaluation procedure for employees.

Currently, county workers who receive at least a satisfactory rating receive an automatic raise. Mr. Ecker would like to see a more specific evaluation process that distinguishes between average and better than average.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.