Defusing the personnel controversy Cooperating with the ethics probe is Gary's only option.

July 01, 1996

RATHER THAN stonewalling a subpoenader secured by the Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission to produce personnel files on five employees, County Executive John Gary has signaled he has every intention of complying.

If these employees are indeed political cronies without any qualifications to hold their jobs, as has been alleged, no amount of obstruction would change that fact. Mr. Gary knows that thwarting the commission's investigation would only fuel the controversy.

There is a tempest-in-a-teapot quality to this dispute. Rewarding political allies with government jobs is ingrained in American electoral politics. Every elected executive -- from U.S. president to town mayor -- usually rewards supporters by giving them government jobs. No one should be surprised that Mr. Gary filled positions with political supporters.

The more critical question becomes whether or not the people filling these mid-level positions satisfy the jobs' basic qualifications.

Despite many efforts to reduce the political manipulation of government personnel process, it is next to impossible to completely remove politics. To its credit, Anne Arundel's process uses a ranking system to ensure a measure of objectivity. The top five candidates are forwarded to a personnel officer, who reviews and then certifies the list. These applicants are interviewed, and then a department head makes the hiring selection.

Apparently, the ethics commission is investigating whether the system has been influenced to ensure that Mr. Gary's allies always make it to the short list of the top five candidates. Betsy K. Dawson, the new executive director of the ethics commission, is determined to get to the bottom of this question.

That is the appropriate course of action. Anne Arundel County is fortunate to have an independent ethics commission with the ability to sort through such sticky ethical quandaries.

An investigation could put to rest these allegations and allay the public's most cynical assumptions.

It is also possible that the commission will discover these hires were lacking in appropriate background and training. If that turns out to be the case, then Mr. Gary will have to answer for some crass political behavior.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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