Baltimore County's $100,000 harmony sessions triggered a bit of discord on the County Council yesterday.
Members debated the merits of spending that much public money on seminars to help boost morale and teamwork within a public works staff reeling from layoffs and bulging workloads.
Some questioned whether it was worth the money. Others said the investment would pay off.
"Seminars can be helpful, but it comes to a point, are we being helpful or are we wasting time and money?" asked Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat. "That's a substantial amount of money to allocate. If the department becomes more productive, then it would be worth it."
But to Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, the verdict is in.
"In the long run, I think it's going to pay off with improved efficiencies," Gardina said. "If you get improved performance, you're going to reap the benefits."
Aiming to boost morale in the Public Works Department, the county is paying $74,281 to a Bethesda firm headed by a former Methodist minister who now preaches sessions in "Personal Mastery" and "The Possible Organization." Another $23,400 was paid for Dale Carnegie training sessions on "How Stress Affects Us."
Neither consultant was initially chosen through bids, and the payments come as the aging county struggles to repair its alleys, sewers and bridges, The Sun reported yesterday.
The seminars, which began in 1995 and continue, came at the behest of Charles R. "Bob" Olsen, who became public works director last year.
Olsen calls the nearly $100,000 a worthwhile investment -- a position echoed yesterday by a spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
"To put it in perspective, it's a $30 million budget they manage," said spokesman Michael H. Davis.
Four contract payments have been made to the two consultants, Harmony Inc. and R.L. Cook & Associates.
The first three were awarded without bid, but did not require council approval because they were under $25,000.
The most recent contract -- for $50,000 to Harmony -- was approved by the council in August.
Asked about the payments yesterday, County Council members delivered a mixed response.
"Goal-building and morale building should come from within," said Fullerton Democrat Joseph Bartenfelder.
"The biggest thing I hear from employees, as far as morale, is it's been so long since they've got a pay raise," he said. "I don't think we need to hire a consultant to tell anybody that."
Some who approved the $50,000 payment said they did so with some hesitation.
"I had doubt, but I've tried to remain optimistic," said T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican. "If it works, it's great. If it doesn't work, it's too bad we entered into the experiment. This is a program that is a favorite of the county executive's, and I have supported it in the hopes that he is correct."
The bottom line, however: "I'd have to see some definite assurance that productivity had increased enough to justify its expense," McIntire said.
To Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, "It sounds high, but it may well be worth it. I'd like to presume that it is."
Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat, admitted he "reviewed the matter quite warily." In the end, however, "I have respect for Bob Olsen as a creative and innovative engineer," so Kamenetz approved the payment.
Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley was more enthusiastic.
"I don't have a problem with it. It's what industry does," Riley said.
"It's good to keep management on its toes with new techniques and new training."
Pub Date: 10/05/96