Ethics Commission asks if Gary hired on loyalty Panel, administration in a legal tug of war RTCBY: Scott Wilson

June 28, 1996|By SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel Ethics Commission investigation into county hiring practices is being driven by a central question: Has County Executive John G. Gary rewarded past political loyalty with civil service jobs?

Last year, the Gary administration filled four merit positions with applicants who worked for Gary's 1994 campaign or on his House of Delegates staff. Three of the jobs, which were not eligible for political appointment, are on the county executive's staff.

The confidential investigation, which has become a legal tug of war between the commission and the Republican administration, is examining whether high-ranking officials skirted a rigorous

county hiring policy to fill jobs with hand-picked applicants boasting better personal contacts than qualifications.

The legal battle was joined yesterday.

County attorneys filed papers in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to block an Ethics Commission subpoena seeking employment files that detail how those jobs were filled.

Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth will rule this morning on the motion, which would allow the administration more time to hand over copies of the original files. The commission's new executive director, Betsy K. Dawson, has demanded original paperwork and said the county is hampering her inquiry at each turn.

"We have told her we would copy them for her, but apparently that is not good enough," said County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe. "We handle hundreds of lawsuits here and that is the way everyone else works. We're not going to deny her any information."

Ties to Gary

The employees' ties to Gary move the investigation closer to the county executive's fourth-floor Arundel Center offices. Gary had no comment yesterday on the matter.

The inquiry into one of the Gary administration's most powerful agencies comes as the Personnel Department undergoes its own internal shake-up.

On Wednesday, Assistant Personnel Director Marc Wirig left his post as the highest-ranking non-appointed employee in the department after seven years.

His position was eliminated in Gary's budget for the fiscal year beginning Monday -- the only currently filled job out of 11,800 countywide positions struck from the payroll. Wirig, who would not speculate on why his job was eliminated, said: "Did I want to leave? No."

Part of consolidation

Wade said Wirig's removal was part of a departmental consolidation. The two assistant personnel officer positions, which are in the second highest pay grade in county government, have been eliminated. Richard Allen retired from one slot earlier this year.

Wirig was not offered the vacant director of benefits and employee relations job, which is of equal rank with his former position. "He had no experience along those lines," Wade said. ++ "It wasn't a fit."

Hiring process

Dawson's inquiry is expected to determine whether the administration hired five merit employees in the same way it makes political appointments, and whether Gary exercised improper influence over what is supposed to be an impartial hiring process.

None of the positions is eligible for political appointment, the method used by a county executive to fill roughly 20 high-ranking positions without going through a scripted civil-service hiring process.

Last week, Dawson obtained a court order demanding that Personnel Officer E. Hilton Wade turn over employment files for the jobs in question by Monday afternoon. Wade failed to meet the deadline, and will face contempt of court charges if he does not comply by tomorrow should the judge rule against the administration this morning.

Scheibe said Dawson's aggressive stance with the county might stem from delays in the processing of her employment papers in May. He said she "may be annoyed" with Wade over difficulties in making her appointment official, which he ascribed to incorrect procedures followed by the Gary-appointed Ethics Commission.

'I'm annoyed'

"I'm annoyed with Hilton Wade because he's not cooperating in getting me these documents," Dawson said yesterday. "I would think he would want to cooperate, and I can't understand why he doesn't."

Dawson, who was appointed by the Ethics Commission last month, has specifically subpoenaed Sigma-4 files, a method used by county personnel staff to numerically rank candidates for civil service positions. A list of the five top-scoring candidates is then sent to Wade, who certifies the ranking. Individual department heads make the final selection after interviews.

But in a letter to Dawson dated Tuesday, assistant county attorney Diane T. Swint states that there are no Sigma-4 files for the positions in question.

The positions, which range in salary from $18,923 to $35,083, are an administrative assistant, an assistant claims adjustor, a clerk for Gary and two legislative liaisons. All but the claims adjustor are part of the county executive's office.

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