Social Services director resigns

Balto. County executive suggests interim leader

Openings in Arundel, Howard, too

July 02, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The director of Baltimore County's Social Services Department will step down at the end of the month, and County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has taken the unusual step of putting forward an interim replacement before discussing the post with the state.

Barbara Gradet, who won praise from state and county officials yesterday for her six years as director of the department, said she is leaving to lead Jewish Family Services, a branch of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

She is the third Social Services director in the Baltimore area to announce her departure this summer, which will force Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration and Democratic local leaders to concur on replacements, who are state employees but also have county government responsibilities.

Smith spokeswoman Tori Leonard said the county executive had to act fast on an interim director to "assure a continuity of care for Baltimore County's families and children."

Officials in Anne Arundel County, where Social Services Director Edward R. Bloom retired Wednesday, did not take such a step, nor did those in Howard County, where Director Samuel Marshall will retire at the end of the month.

Smith's putting forward an interim appointee is reminiscent of a move Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe used to install attorney Floyd R. Blair as acting director of Baltimore's Social Services Department over the objections of Mayor Martin O'Malley. The city is contesting the appointment in court.

O'Malley has argued that Social Services directors have traditionally been picked by municipal officials because of the crucial local role they play. He has also said that Blair, McCabe's choice for the job, is unqualified to manage the agency.

Frank Kelley III, chairman of the county's Social Services board, said Smith suggested Marci Van De Mark, a nine-year veteran of the department who is now assistant director for the Adult and Adolescent Services Division, to serve as interim director. The board concurred with Smith's recommendation, Kelley said.

Smith's spokeswoman and a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources confirmed yesterday that the county executive sent the name of an interim director to McCabe, but both declined to discuss the name of the prospective appointee.

State law requires the secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources and the county executive or mayor to concur on the appointments of local Social Services director.

State and Baltimore County officials said yesterday that they hope to cooperate, but it's unclear what would happen if the state and county disagree on Smith's interim appointee. McCabe spokesman Norris West said interim appointees are not directly addressed in the state law, and no procedure is set out.

However, he said he expects a "calm" and "cordial" discussion with Baltimore County about candidates for interim and permanent replacements for Gradet, whom he called a "dynamic" leader.

"Secretary McCabe has worked extremely well with local jurisdictions to find suitable replacements for directors who have left, so we expect that in Baltimore County we're going to have the same kind of relations," West said.

"We can only think of one [jurisdiction] where there is disagreement, one where we're being sued, but everywhere else we've managed to have a mutually cordial relationship," he added.

West said the state is close to agreement with Anne Arundel over an interim appointment and will likely begin discussions with officials in Howard about a temporary director there.

Anne Arundel spokeswoman Jodie Couser said state officials met with County Executive Janet S. Owens on Wednesday and assured her they would conduct an open recruitment for a permanent appointee and that she would be part of the process.

Social Services leadership has been a pressing issue in recent weeks as the city department has scrambled to deal with high-profile cases, including the death of month-old twin girls. The state had taken another child away from the girls' mother because of abuse and neglect, but she was allowed to take the twins home from the hospital even though a social worker called the state to inquire about her. The mother and her boyfriend have been charged in the girls' deaths.

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who held a hearing with McCabe and Blair after the twins' death, said he is "alarmed" about the delivery of social services in the state, particularly for foster children.

But he said yesterday that the problem does not lie with McCabe's leadership.

"He is a person who is genuinely concerned and sincere," Cardin said. "He is a quality individual who is a strong administrator."

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