Bill aimed at nepotism voted down Measure would have denied elected officials ability to hire family

Critics call measure flawed

Both councilman, executive have wives working for them

January 07, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

After a debate as bitter as a family feud, the Anne Arundel County Council late Monday voted down an ethics bill that would have barred elected officials from hiring family members.

At the center of the argument over the anti-nepotism ordinance was whether County Executive John G. Gary and Councilman George F. Bachman, a Democrat from Linthicum, should have their wives working for them.

Gary's wife, Ruthanne, earns $69,598 a year as the county's director of community services, notifying community organizations of development projects.

Anna Bachman receives $50,589 annually as her husband's legislative assistant.

After hearing complaints about raises the women received this fall, Councilman James "Ed" DeGrange of Glen Burnie introduced a bill that would have prevented elected officials from hiring or supervising anyone in their immediate family.

DeGrange's bill would have taken effect in November and required Ruthanne Gary to quit if her husband were re-elected. It would not have had any impact on Mrs. Bachman because her husband is barred from running again by the county's term-limit laws.

The measure failed by a vote of 4-2, with Bachman abstaining because of his involvement in the issue.

After the decision, DeGrange accused the Gary administration of lobbying behind the scenes to protect Mrs. Gary's job.

"It shows you one thing: The good old boy network is alive and well," said DeGrange, a Democrat running for the state Senate. "I think we elected officials needed to pass this to hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard and remove any appearance of a conflict of interest."

Those voting against DeGrange's bill were Republican Councilmen Bert L. Rice of Odenton, William C. Mulford of Annapolis and John J. Klocko of Crofton, and Democrat Thomas W. Redmond of Pasadena.

Those voting for it were DeGrange and Republican Councilwoman Diane Evans, who is expected to announce soon that she will run against Gary in a primary this fall.

The opponents of DeGrange's bill said that they agreed with the goal of preventing nepotism. But they said DeGrange had drafted a flawed bill that failed to distinguish between appointed and merit-system employees.

Merit-system employees are county workers not appointed by the county executive who, by law, cannot be fired without written justification, said County Attorney Phillip Scheibe.

Mrs. Gary is a merit-system employee hired in 1991, three years before her husband took office.

Rice, the council chairman, said he would introduce legislation next month that would bar elected officials from appointing family members, but would not apply to merit-system employees.

Some of the most heated testimony Monday came from state Del. John R. Leopold, an Anne Arundel Republican. He told the council: "Nepotism corrodes county employee morale and allows Anne Arundel to be labeled a backwater, good old boy county known as much for its self-interest as the public interest."

Leopold went on to say that Ruthanne Gary was not hired as a merit-system employee, but as a contract employee. In an interview, he also complained that her salary had been raised 44 percent since 1991.

County spokeswoman Lisa Ritter confirmed that Mrs. Gary had been retained as a contract employee in 1991 with a salary of $48,499, but was later hired as a merit-system employee. Her raises have been approved by Thomas C. Andrews, the county's chief administrative officer, Ritter said.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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