County Council OKs ballot proposal Charter amendment would give executive more power on office staffing

August 04, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After a monthlong controversy, the Baltimore County Council approved last night a proposed charter amendment for the November ballot that would give the county executive the power to keep his office staff outside the civil service merit system.

The vote was 6-1, despite the continued opposition of a group of high-level county bureaucrats known as the Supervisory, Management and Confidential (SMC) employees, who believe any change to the county's charter deserves more time for consideration.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, voted against the proposal.

Riley said the proposal would place no numerical cap on the size of the executive's staff. However, his proposed amendment to cap the staff at the current 15 failed for lack of a second.

"That's just bad legislation," he said, referring to the proposed charter amendment.

Administration officials argued that the council can control the size of the executive's staff through the budget.

"I object to any charter amendment being done at such a late date," said Ronald E. Harvey, president of the 700-member SMC group, adding that he wants the County Council to "take a stand" against the further erosion of the merit system.

Last chance to get on ballot

Last night's vote was the last opportunity to put a measure on the November ballot. All charter changes must be approved by the voters.

The proposed charter amendment that was approved is vastly different from the original proposal, which would have allowed the removal of dozens of high-ranking police, fire and other county jobs from the merit system.

After weeks of mounting criticism and several revisions, the administration dropped all provisions last week except for the executive's staff.

But Harvey charged that County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has illegally removed several high-ranking jobs,

including some public works bureau chiefs, from the merit system by hiring people as "part-time" exempt employees.

Even the executive staff should have a merit system employee or two for continuity and institutional memory, Harvey said.

But Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat, said the executive should control his staff and added that the charter provides for continuity in government because it contains a provision that the county administrative officer -- the top appointed official -- will serve a term six months longer than the elected executive.

"I think the council has been working hard with the executive and with many of the employees," Moxley said. "This is a solution we can live with."

Bill on signs introduced

In other action, the Ruppersberger administration introduced a bill to revise the law regulating political signs.

The action came in the wake of a federal appellate judge's opinion last week that the current law, which bans all political signs on private property until 30 days before an election, is likely unconstitutional. Maryland and Harford County have similar laws that have a 45-day limit.

Rather than wait for a permanent court ruling in the case involving supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eileen M. Rehrmann, the county is moving to regulate signs by construction rather than by message.

The proposed bill would allow all "temporary" signs made of paper, cardboard, thin plastic, cloth, fabric or thin wood to be displayed for 60 days. Under the measure, a second temporary sign bearing the same message could replace the first one for another 60 days. The council will vote on the bill in September.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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