Smith's pick for No. 2 bows out in Balto. Co.

Showdown was expected over council confirmation

March 14, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The showdown between Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and the County Council over his pick for the government's No. 2 post ended yesterday when Beverley Swaim-Staley asked to be removed from consideration for the job.

Swaim-Staley, a former top administrator in the Maryland Department of Transportation who ran into opposition from the County Council on her proposed $140,000 salary and her personality, would not give a specific reason for her departure yesterday, saying merely that she had decided it was time to move on.

The departure is just the latest in a string of tense moments in Smith's relationship with the County Council, which has included fights over his personnel moves, questions about the qualifications of his advisers, conflicting interpretations of a charter amendment and a squabble over the council's attempt to get additional information in the budget process.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Smith left no doubt as to whom he blamed for Swaim-Staley's departure.

"I am sorry that we were not able to resolve this issue in a different manner," Smith said. "Unfortunately, some members of the council are unwilling to pay competitive salaries for the county's top administrative officer. While Beverley and I were willing to agree to a significant compromise on her salary, we were unable to find sufficient votes to approve any compromise."

But when council members learned of Swaim-Staley's departure, they struck a conciliatory tone.

"I wish her the best in her future endeavors," said Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat who opposed the $140,000 salary proposed by Smith, which is $25,000 more than the previous administrative officer earned.

"I look forward to the executive working closely with the council to find a person who will be mutually acceptable and suitable for the post. I'm looking forward to developing a solid working relationship with the executive, and I hope he feels the same," Kamenetz said.

Swaim-Staley, 46, said she will stay on as a senior adviser to Smith for a few weeks to help him prepare next year's budget and to complete some projects she has started.

"I just need to move on, but I do want to help Jim in any way I can, and I certainly will try to do that," she said. "I really believe in what he wants to do."

Earlier this year, Smith told confidants he was willing to use all his political capital to win confirmation for Swaim-Staley. In recent weeks, though, even some of Smith's closest supporters have privately questioned why he would force a showdown over a woman he had never met before interviewing her.

Meanwhile, many top officials in the county government have questioned why Swaim-Staley would continue to pursue the post, which would likely involve a bruising confirmation hearing, pay less than she was promised and require that she move from Annapolis to Baltimore County.

"If I was she and all these issues came up and salary was an issue, I probably would have done it a couple of weeks ago, during a snowstorm or something of that nature," said Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat. "I like the lady and think she's probably very capable, but I think if you realize things aren't going to work out, you do it then and save some face for your boss."

Swaim-Staley's nomination was troubled from the start.

Smith did not check with council members, who set the administrative officer's pay, before promising her the salary. Some council members said Swaim-Staley told them during interviews that she had offers in the private sector for more than $140,000 and would not accept less. The council then rejected a resolution that called for a $140,000 salary for the administrative officer.

Not all council members opposed the salary. Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said the pay raise made sense, given that Swaim-Staley and Smith imagined she would have a stronger role in overseeing department heads than her predecessor did.

But salary wasn't the only issue. A handful of council members raised questions about Swaim-Staley's personality, saying they feared she would be a micromanager and would alienate department heads and employees.

Although Swaim-Staley won praise from legislators and top officials in the state government, some rank-and-file employees in the Department of Transportation sent letters to County Council members criticizing her management style and encouraging them not to confirm her for the post.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said he believed she should have been confirmed.

"I'm sorry that the council couldn't agree on retaining her," he said. "I'm not going to say they went too far - I really don't know what the other people were thinking - but I have always been a strong believer in that the [executive] should have the right to hire who he wants to hire."

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