Howard GOP gains backer for charter change: a Democrat Her ideas could save plan for personnel system

June 11, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The Republican fight to overhaul Howard County's personnel system has an unlikely new savior: Democratic Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung.

With the support of local public employee unions, the west Columbia council member offered a compromise yesterday on a Republican plan to write more flexibility into the personnel section of the county's charter.

Her compromise would preserve the right of employees to appeal unfavorable job reviews. It also would preserve the right of union employees to settle disputes through binding arbitration.

Council Republicans complained loudly at yesterday's meeting, the second of the council's work sessions on proposed charter changes. But by the end of the meeting, Lorsung's proposal had survived -- and so had Republican hopes of writing major personnel changes in the county's charter.

"She's the one who I hope can see the way clear to break the old stranglehold of the old system," said Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican and rare ally of Lorsung.

The council is in the process of reviewing charter changes recommended by a commission in April. Those that survive the council review -- including a July 15 public hearing and July 25 council vote -- will go to voters in November.

Lorsung has special stature in this debate because charter changes require a two-thirds vote of the council to make the ballot.

On a five-member council, that means four votes. The Republicans have three. And Lorsung, in the minority since she won her district in 1994, now is the swing vote.

"We met with her a number of times," said George F. Gisin, an official with Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and a spokesman for the county's 550 unionized workers. "We were smart enough to recognize that she held the keys to the kingdom."

Drown and County Executive Charles I. Ecker, also a Republican, have made overhauling the personnel system a top priority.

Ecker was unavailable for comment yesterday, but he has called the system antiquated and inflexible. He paid $50,000 to a San Diego consultant to help convert the county to a "pay-for-performance" system that would base raises on evaluations made by supervisors.

A draft of that consultant's report has circulated among administration officials.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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