State picks interim chief for Howard social services

County executive had little input, aide says

July 27, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Despite losing a court fight over appointing Baltimore's interim social services director without Mayor Martin O'Malley's agreement, Maryland Secretary of Human Resources Christopher J. McCabe has done the same thing in Howard County.

McCabe chose Doris Mason, 41, the assistant director of Howard County Social Services for child welfare, to become interim director after 30-year Director Sam Marshall retires Friday.

Although McCabe said he "communicated" with the office of Howard County Executive James N. Robey, the secretary said the choice wasn't "a matter of concurrence. It was a matter of informing him."

Norris West, McCabe's spokesman, said the situation is different from the dispute with O'Malley because Howard County "did not have any strong disagreements with the choice" of Mason. O'Malley contended that interim city Director Floyd R. Blair is not qualified for the post.

"The secretary hopes to sit down face to face with Jim Robey" to discuss a permanent director, West said.

But Robey aide Herman Charity said McCabe made his choice without giving Robey, who suggested another candidate for the interim post, a chance to review Mason's credentials. "We're upset with the process," Charity said.

Robey "submitted a name and there was no discussion about the name he'd submitted," Charity said. Robey was returning from vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment.

Robey "sure hopes there's a real partnership in selecting the permanent director," Charity said. "He wanted to have that same say for the interim director. We believe that's what the court order allowed us to do."

In a news release, McCabe gave the impression that he and Robey made the choice together.

"With input from Sam [Marshall] and the county executive, we have identified a person with a proven track record and intimate knowledge of the agency. Ms. Mason is talented and proficient with a history of innovative program development, budget and resource management," the announcement said.

McCabe, a Republican and former Howard County state senator who was appointed by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has battled O'Malley, a Democrat and possible gubernatorial rival of Ehrlich's, over the leadership of Baltimore's troubled welfare agency.

On July 12, City Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that the state did not have the right to install Blair as interim Baltimore Social Services director without O'Malley's consent.

Murdock ordered O'Malley and Ehrlich to agree on a permanent director within 45 days. Local social services offices are state agencies, but the law requires concurrence between local and state leaders in choosing directors.

Last week, McCabe appeared to back away from a similar potential confrontation with Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., also a Democrat.

McCabe agreed with Smith in appointing Marci Van De Mark interim director of Baltimore County's Social Services department after Director Barbara Gradet resigned to lead Jewish Family Services.

Smith had earlier announced his choice for the job without consulting McCabe.

In Howard, McCabe announced his choice for the interim job Friday at a farewell gathering for Marshall.

McCabe said he would be "working with Robey on a process" of interviewing and agreeing on a permanent director over the next four to six weeks.

Last month, McCabe summarily fired Kathi Heslin, Howard's assistant director for family services, weeks after Heslin talked publicly about problems caused by chronic staff shortages and the state's refusal to fill job vacancies paid for with county funds.

Mason said she has been a state employee for 18 years, working 14 years in Caroline County social services and four years in the Talbot County office in Easton, where she lives. She came to the Howard office in April 2003 and expects to move to the Western Shore soon, she said.

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