Ruppersberger abandons overhaul of merit system Executive lowers number of posts he would exempt

July 29, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Facing opposition from labor groups and Baltimore County Council members, the Ruppersberger administration yesterday abandoned its push to remove dozens of high-ranking county jobs from the merit system.

Instead, the council is being asked to approve a charter amendment for the November ballot that would remove only the 14 members of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's office from the county's civil service system.

Ruppersberger said he plans to work with employee groups during the next two years to make other changes in the 42-year-old merit system. Under the system, people in merit jobs may be fired only for cause. Employee groups had warned that Ruppersberger's proposed changes could open the door to political abuses and patronage.

The county executive's reversal came just before a County Council work session at which the charter amendment was to have been discussed. In its original form, the proposal would have affected as many as 700 supervisory jobs.

"I think the message got out the wrong way," Ruppersberger said of employee opposition to the plan. "We decided, for the benefit of our employees, to work with them."

Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's spokesman, said that after many changes in the proposed amendment, the administration decided yesterday that "it's better to take time to do something like that. Dutch wouldn't benefit from it, so why do it?"

The Baltimore County Charter -- the county's constitution -- cannot be changed except by the voters, and the amendment would not appear on the ballot if the council refused to approve it at next Monday's council meeting.

Two council members had stated their opposition, and Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat, expressed serious doubts about the proposal.

Yesterday, several members were pleased that they will not have to vote on the more controversial version of the charter amendment.

"This is exactly what I suggested. I'm totally happy with it," said T. Bryan McIntire, a North County-Owings Mills Republican.

Moxley said the latest change "definitely makes a lot of sense," and he thanked the administration during the meeting "for working this out."

Despite the Ruppersberger reversal, several speakers, including Anne Lee, president of the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, urged the council to reject any charter change -- even the limited one affecting only the executive's staff.

County worker unions lined up in support. Ronald E. Harvey, president of the 700-member Supervisory Management and Confidential Association, said, "This is a large improvement over what we started with. We can live with it, I guess."

As originally proposed, the amendment would have made any position in the association -- about 10 percent of general county employees -- subject to removal from the merit system. To become part of the charter, the amendment would have to be approved by voters and by four of the seven council members in separate legislation.

As opposition to the original proposal mounted, the administration began making changes, lowering the number of top jobs affected to 75, then to 50 and then to about 25. Those would have included deputy department heads, the top two ranks of the police and fire departments and county budget analysts.

So many changes were made that Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, jokingly asked during yesterday's meeting if the latest bill was written in pencil, so it could be erased easily.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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