Panel to seek agency director

As deadline nears, city, state form committee to find social services chief

August 21, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Less than a week before a court-ordered deadline to find someone to lead Baltimore's social services agency, the city and state announced yesterday the formation of a six-member search committee.

The committee will recommend finalists for the job of Baltimore City Department of Social Services director to Mayor Martin O'Malley and Christopher J. McCabe, Maryland's human resources secretary.

The Democratic mayor and the appointee of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have fought over the appointment for a year. They have until Thursday to agree on a director, under an order issued last month by a Baltimore circuit judge.

"We're moving forward in a spirit of cooperation," said Norris P. West, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the social services office. West said the department is going to do "everything we can to comply with the court order."

The committee will begin interviewing candidates early next week and will make recommendations to O'Malley and McCabe, City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said. He declined to say how many candidates would be interviewed.

"Obviously we're pressing to try to get it completed, but if it's not, we'll certainly report to the court on the status," Tyler said.

The question of who will lead the state-funded agency, which is responsible for the welfare of Baltimore's most vulnerable children and adults, has been the subject of a fierce political and legal battle between two of Maryland's most high-profile politicians. O'Malley is expected to run for governor in 2006.

McCabe hired Floyd R. Blair in September as interim director against the wishes of O'Malley. The mayor filed a lawsuit seeking Blair's removal on grounds that he lacked five years of management experience and O'Malley's approval, which are required by law.

On July 12, a Baltimore circuit judge ruled that the state did not have the right to install Blair without the mayor's consent. She gave the state and city 45 days to agree on someone to lead the agency, but left Blair in the job in the meantime.

Since then, the city and state have wrestled with how to fulfill the judge's order. After some haggling over the wording, the city and state agreed to advertise the position in newspapers and professional journals.

But the city also hired a recruiting firm on its own to identify other candidates. And Ehrlich has maintained that Blair should be considered a candidate for the job.

In recent weeks, an employees union friendly to Ehrlich has called for Blair to keep his job at two rallies - demonstrations that the mayor's staff has accused the Ehrlich administration of orchestrating.

The two sides also sparred over the structure of the search committee. Ehrlich originally proposed a five-member panel, to which the state would name four members and O'Malley would name one. O'Malley rejected that plan.

The two sides eventually agreed on a six-member committee, with McCabe and O'Malley each appointing three members.

McCabe appointed Elizabeth D. Seale, the state's deputy human resources secretary, Andrea M. Fulton, executive director of the state Office of Personnel Services and Benefits, and Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

O'Malley appointed Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, Elliott L. Wheelan, Baltimore's human resources director, and Jesse J. Harris, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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