Dvorak calls for civility in pension talks Top Gary aide seeks end to 'verbal abuse' before commission

'There's a proper way'

Disputed session held one day after Dvorak delivered own 'tirade'

July 19, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

A week after firing the first shot in a pitched battle between county employees and the Gary administration over pension benefits, Anne Arundel's No. 2 ranking official is calling for a truce.

Sort of.

"I don't have any problem with people taking shots," county Administrative Officer Robert J. Dvorak said yesterday over an iced tea in his corner Arundel Center office. "Hey, if you take a shot at me, then I'll take a shot at you. But there's a proper way of doing things."

Dvorak -- who last week lectured the County Council on the evils of New Deal policies and said Anne Arundel should not "baby-sit" its employees -- has asked the Pension Oversight Commission to regain control of an unruly political debate.

In a letter dated Tuesdayto commission Chairman Dennis P. Howell, Dvorak claims the nonpartisan advisory panel has allowed audience members to ridicule administration officials during public hearings.

He specifically refers to a July 11 meeting that followed by a day his comments to the council when, in what has been described as a tirade, Dvorak used mild profanity to defend the county's pension bill and said Anne Arundel was "not the godfather who takes care of everybody."

The comments were prompted by snickers from an audience of county employees after administration officials advised them to start saving for retirement.

"Reports indicate that representatives of the administration were subjected to a continuous stream of verbal abuse -- not only from those in attendance but also from some members of the commission," writes Dvorak, who did not attend the July 11 meeting. "Differences in opinion and the expression of those views is one thing. Subjecting the messengers to abuse is an entirely different matter and cannot be tolerated."

The nine-member commission, drawn from county unions, nonrepresented employees and the public, has held two meetings in the past week on the administration's pension bill. The 41-page measure would make fundamental changes to the county's $750 million retirement system.

Deborah G. Turner, the commission's vice chairwoman who ran the July 11 meeting, said, "There was nothing unusual. I thought the questions from commission members were polite. They were very much on point, but the tone was respectful. There were occasional comments from the audience, but it was nothing other than background noise."

Councilman James E. DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat, agreed. He attended the July 11 meeting a day after squaring off with Dvorak over the pension bill in council chambers. "I have no idea where this came from," he said. "I was shocked by the letter."

County union leaders said yesterday that Dvorak's letter was another administration tactic to gain the upper hand in what has been a tumultuous debate. Dvorak is County Executive John G. Gary's top aide, and has been the administration point man on pension reform.

"The arrogance of this guy to write a letter like that," said LeRoy A. Wilkison, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1563. "It's unbelievable."

Said Howell, who is president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70: "He kind of went off on a little tirade himself, but it wasn't directed at anybody in particular. His point is that he doesn't want it directed at his personnel, and professionally I can understand that."

The pension bill, which will likely remain at the center of county politics through the summer, would eliminate guaranteed cost-of-living raises for retired workers and create a less-generous pension system for new employees. The administration predicts that the measure would save $3.4 million this year in pension costs and $6 million annually in future years.

Unions representing most of Anne Arundel's 3,500 employees say the changes would further demoralize a work force that has been the target of several administration bills to cut personnel costs, which account for 75 percent of county spending.

In an interview yesterday, Dvorak admitted that "maybe my choice of words wasn't the best." But he stood by his message: County payroll costs must come down or Anne Arundel will face a fiscal "train wreck" in the next 10 years.

"This started between me and [DeGrange], and it got a little heated," Dvorak said. "But this is an emotional issue.

"I think I'm a masochist," he added. "Deep down I must enjoy this."

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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