County salary proposal in trouble, Ecker says Charter rift may kill 'performance' system

June 24, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker says his plan to tie the salaries of county workers to their performance may be dead now that a deal on related charter changes has crumbled in the County Council.

The compromise on proposed charter changes collapsed last week when Democratic Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia -- who crafted the deal -- backed out, saying the council had not addressed some important issues.

She recommended further review. The changes could be reconsidered in 1998.

News of Lorsung's action convinced Ecker that his long fight to impose a so-called "pay-for-performance" plan on the county's 1,800 workers may be doomed.

"I think pay-for-performance will be very, very difficult, if not impossible, unless that provision in the charter is changed," Ecker said.

The charter section Ecker hoped to change concerns the right of employees to appeal to the personnel board almost any decision made by a superior.

Republicans say that leads to a system in which raises, supposedly based on merit, are given to nearly every employee, regardless of performance.

Ecker prefers a system in which supervisors can give a range of raises -- or no raise at all -- to subordinates, depending on evaluations of their performance.

An organizational consultant who has studied the county's personnel system has recommended such a system in a report due to be released soon.

That report suggests a system in which supervisors, subordinates, peers and the employees themselves do evaluations, according to Jimmie L. Saylor, personnel administrator. The size of raises would depend on those eval-uations. But without the charter changes, Ecker said employees would appeal every decision except the maximum raises allowable. In practice, that would discourage supervisors from issuing critical evaluations, he said.

He favors a system in which only employees denied raises could appeal.

Two weeks ago, Lorsung agreed to charter changes that would have done exactly that, limiting appeals to those denied raises.

It was less sweeping than the broader package of personnel changes Republicans had sought.

But the issue remained alive because Lorsung was willing to accept a change in the appeals process. Charter changes need a two-thirds vote -- four members of the council -- to get on the ballot in November. Republicans have three seats on the council, Democrats two.

Lorsung could not be reached for comment yesterday, but in a memo to Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, a Republican, she cited a "lack of clarity of language and intent" involving the proposed charter changes that could cause interpretation problems later.

She also said the council should not recommend charter changes before seeing the consultant's report on the personnel system. The administration has reviewed a draft report but not released a copy to the County Council, employees or the public.

East Columbia Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat, said he discussed the compromise plan with Lorsung. He also co-signed the memo withdrawing her support for the compromise.

Gray said he pointed out to Lorsung that the protections she wanted for employees already existed in the charter and would stay there with or without the compromise.

"There's a lot of problems with the proposal," he said, "and I think one of the problems is the removal of any checks and balances."

Drown said Lorsung's compromise didn't have enough support to pass the council anyway, and he predicted that significant personnel changes can come without the charter changes.

"I'm glad she did it, to tell you the truth," Drown said. "There weren't four votes for any of this."

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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