Smith nominees likely to be interviewed in public

Council to begin hearings to confirm next week

January 22, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council will likely hold open confirmation hearings for Executive James T. Smith's top-level nominees starting next week, a first for the county government.

A charter amendment approved by voters in November gives the council the right to confirm or reject Smith's department head nominees - including positions such as director of public works and county health officer. Previously, the council would confirm only a few appointments, such as the police and fire chiefs. Those hearings were closed to the public.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said he has discussed the matter informally with other council members and believes that there is general support for keeping the hearings open.

"I don't see any reason not to conduct these interviews in public," Kamenetz said. "It's important to have a public airing of these nominees."

The support is not universal. Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat in his first term, said he doesn't think the council should have confirmation powers, or that the nominees should be interviewed in public.

"I think we're taking this a little too far," he said.

Smith has nominated five department heads - three are holdovers from the C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger administration and two hold their posts on an acting basis.

Last summer, Smith, then a county executive candidate, worked to keep the confirmation amendment off the ballot. But his spokeswoman, Elise Armacost, said yesterday that he is not bothered by the prospect of open hearings.

"This is entirely their call," Armacost said, referring to the council. "The county executive has said whatever they decide is fine with him."

Seven local governments in Maryland have executive-council governments -Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties - but there is no pattern for how the executive's appointments are handled.

The Anne Arundel County Council has no confirmation powers, while the Howard council confirms only the county attorney and cable administrator.

The councils in Baltimore City and Prince George's County confirm department heads, and those in Harford and Montgomery counties confirm all executive appointments. In Baltimore City and Howard and Montgomery counties, public confirmation hearings are held. But interviews with appointees in other jurisdictions are usually one-on-one and private.

Smith has nominated: acting Parks and Recreation Director Robert J. Barrett; Environmental Protection and Resource Management Director David A.C. Carroll; acting Department of Aging Director Arnold J. Eppel; Fire Chief John Hohman; and Health Officer Michelle Leverett.

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