Questions raised about departure

Forced resignation of public works chief angers residents

`Nothing improper'

Commissioners decline to reveal reasons for decision

Carroll County

July 20, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Residents upset by the forced resignation of Carroll's public works director are questioning the board's decision to let him go and pressuring Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier to disclose the reason for his sudden departure.

"They never bothered to tell anybody why they did this, and as elected officials, I think they have a responsibility to do so," Eldersburg resident Guy Simmons said of Dell and Frazier.

The Board of County Commissioners asked J. Michael Evans to resign during a private meeting June 27. Evans, 57, had worked for the county for more than 12 years. He was named public works director in 1995 and oversaw a staff of 170.

Sources close to the commissioners said Evans was attending a retirement party at the county maintenance center when he was summoned to the commissioners' office to talk about a "problem."

He was not told what the problem was until he sat down with the commissioners in a conference room in their office suite, the sources said.

The commissioners gave no reason for their decision, though Julia Walsh Gouge has said publicly that she was surprised by her colleagues' actions. She was not present when they decided to ask for Evans' resignation.

"We handled the process properly," Dell said. "There were various reasons, some serious and some not so serious, but to reveal those reasons would cause controversy. Rather than debating each and every reason, we went through the process without angering anybody at the table."

Evans had three closed meetings with the commissioners to hammer out the details of a severance package. The agreement remains confidential. Evans refused to comment.

"Whenever someone leaves county employment, they are probably going to be looking for another position," said Dell. "I would certainly not want to do anything that would affect someone's chances of finding a job."

Frazier also refused to discuss the reasons for Evans' departure.

"We just felt it was best for all parties concerned not to disclose any details," she said. "There are a lot of decisions that we have to make that are tough. This was one of them. Our goal is to do what is best for the citizens of Carroll County."

The commissioners' silence about Evans' forced departure has angered some residents. One woman asked State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to investigate the legality of the commissioners' decision.

"I looked into it and, after discussing the issue with the county attorney's office and Commissioner Gouge, found that nothing improper had occurred," Montanarelli said.

Under state law, the commissioners have the right to discuss personnel matters in closed meetings, and county laws do not prohibit two members of the board from discussing a personnel issue without the third member present. In addition, the board is not legally obligated to disclose its reasons for terminating county administrators, who serve "at the pleasure of the board."

"As a taxpayer, I am outraged," said Angela Lee, the Eldersburg resident who called Montanarelli. "This seemed to be a very bizarre state of affairs, where you have one commissioner shut out of the decision-making process."

The board's actions have raised larger issues for John Culleton, who serves on the board of the Freedom Area Community Council and pushed to abolish the commissioner form of government in Carroll two years ago. His unsuccessful effort to establish a charter would have put leadership with a single executive and county council.

"If we had charter, Julia Gouge would probably be our county executive. Instead, we have three commissioners, and two of them are running the show," Culleton said.

Dell and Frazier have said they will not discuss the reasons for Evans' departure, no matter how many complaints they hear from residents. Both have responded to calls from angry constituents but offered no explanation for their actions.

"I think we get elected to office to run county government," said Dell. "I can't imagine letting the citizens have a say when anyone gets fired. The voters can fire us during a general election, but that's the extent of their input."

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