Ethics probe grows wider Initial focus was on hiring by county executive

August 14, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel Ethics Commission investigation into whether County Executive John G. Gary illegally hired former campaign workers and State House staff for civil service jobs is expanding.

Entering a third month, the probe has pushed beyond its initial scope of determining whether Gary rewarded four political allies with county jobs soon after he took office in December 1994. Three of the four jobs in question were on the Republican executive's staff; none was eligible for appointment.

But no one, including some ethics commissioners, is sure where the investigation is heading. "They are still requesting information from our office," said E. Hilton Wade, the county personnel officer. "They're not telling me anything. I'm not on their team."

County officials, exasperated by the commission's continuing requests for documents, claim a once-focused investigation has taken a scattered approach. More positions are being scrutinized. And particularly puzzling to administration officials is the commission's recent request for personnel files of at least one county employee hired by Robert R. Neall, Gary's predecessor.

"It seems peculiar at best," said County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe. "We're now talking about people the county executive doesn't know. I have no idea what it's about."

The commission's executive director, Betsy K. Dawson, has reviewed more than 150 job applications and employment tests. Dawson, who worked for the county Office of Law from 1977 to 1982, refused to comment yesterday on the status of the investigation, citing confidentiality rules. The Ethics Commission, which met Monday evening, has yet to rule on the matter.

The county's Public Ethics code states: "An employee may not use the prestige, title, or authority of the employee's office . . . for the gain of others." Those found violating the law face dismissal, up to $1,000 in fines, and six months in jail.

The probe began in June, soon after Dawson was appointed to her post, with an allegation that the Office of Personnel ignored ,, prescribed hiring procedures to fill four of the county's 3,500 merit jobs with Gary's political loyalists. The jobs pay between $18,923 and $35,083 a year.

Three of the employees whose hiring is in question worked on Gary's successful 1994 campaign. One of them, Carol Moon, recently resigned as the receptionist in Gary's executive offices and moved to Texas for reasons unrelated to the probe.

The fourth worked in Gary's House of Delegates office for 12 years.

Dawson has pored over documents associated with each employee's hiring to determine whether administration officials followed proper procedure. About 30 people applied for each position. Scheibe, who says that Dawson's probe has "jumped from department to department," has refused to turn over some of the employees' more personal information.

"Generally, I'm not allowed to look at personnel files without the permission of the person whose file it is," Dawson said. "I agree with that."

The civil-service hiring process begins with a Sigma-4 test, which is a computerized scoring technique ranking applicants.

A list of the five top-scoring candidates is certified by the personnel officer and forwarded to each department head, who makes the final selection after interviews.

"I've scrutinized these things myself and I can't find a thing wrong with them," Scheibe said.

In recent months, the Office of Personnel has been at the center of a fierce political debate pitting county employees against the administration. Gary has waged an aggressive campaign to cut Anne Arundel's payroll costs, which account for 75 percent of county spending, through a series of bills drafted by the personnel office.

Scheibe and Wade say Dawson may be reviewing individual complaints -- from missed promotions to unfair treatment -- stemming from the months of turmoil. "Maybe what she's trying to do is take an overall look at personnel regulations," Scheibe said. "I don't know."

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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