Panel to help choose director

State, county resolve social services dispute

Committee to suggest finalists

Joint effort could become a model for Maryland

Howard County

August 04, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With four Baltimore-area jurisdictions seeking new social service directors, state and Howard County leaders yesterday agreed to a committee approach that state Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe said he hopes will become a statewide model.

A joint state-county committee will review candidates and suggest two or three finalists, McCabe said - similar to a Baltimore County group created last week for the same purpose. New directors also are being sought in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey said he was furious last week that he had not been consulted when McCabe named an interim Howard director to replace Sam Marshall, who has retired. Robey said he changed his tack during a meeting yesterday morning with McCabe, a former Howard County state senator, in Ellicott City.

"There was a part of me that wanted to scream and yell, `Let's start all over again,' but that wouldn't do the people who worked over there or the people who need services any good. That was all water under the dam," Robey said.

"I was thinking, `Let's go to court,' but what good does that do?" Robey added, agreeing with McCabe that their 40-minute meeting was "amicable."

The executive named Raquel Sanudo, county administrative officer, Susan Rosenbaum, citizen services director, and a county social services board member to the nominating committee. Robey said he wants finalists selected within 30 days.

Said McCabe: "I respect the county executive, and I could have done a better job in working directly with him rather than just through staff. We've always been on really good terms."

Marshall, who retired Friday, also approved of the committee proposal. "I'm glad this is happening because that makes this an open system," he said.

Doris Mason, assistant director of Howard County Social Services for child welfare, was selected by McCabe last month to become the county's interim director.

McCabe lost a court battle with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley over the same issue - the interim appointment of Floyd R. Blair as city social services director, without the mayor's approval.

A city Circuit Court judge ruled that the mayor and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. must concur in that choice; they were given 45 days to agree on a candidate. The two sides have not come to an agreement.

McCabe and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. created an eight-member committee - half state and half county appointees - to choose finalists for the Towson job. A similar group is in the works for Anne Arundel County, officials there said.

McCabe said his goal is to "establish kind of a process common to all jurisdictions."

McCabe also denied assertions by Marshall that the Republican Ehrlich administration is intent on cutting social services and stifling dissent about it among employees.

"If that's a perception, I'd certainly want to dispel it. People are strong advocates for the needs of local organizations. We need to listen to them and work through local directors," he said.

"There's been no message from me or anyone else that would suggest there's any intimidation of any employees who speak out," he said, dismissing that as "a perception that a few people have."

But employees have said McCabe's actions speak louder than his words.

They point to the sudden firing of Kathi Heslin, assistant Howard social services director and a 28-year state worker, who was dismissed in June. Heslin told social services board members in May that staff cuts have overburdened workers and that state officials had refused to hire five support clerks even though the county agreed to pay their salaries.

McCabe said he wants to fill those clerical positions, but bureaucratic problems have intervened. The jobs were eliminated from state rolls during a hiring freeze. Now, he said, he has expanded authority for grant-funded jobs and might be able to accept the county's help.

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