Staff changes begin under new county executive

Administrator O'Neill to take Md. job

procurement, planning chiefs to leave

July 17, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

County Executive David R. Craig's new administration began to take shape in earnest last week, as three high-ranking officials under former executive James M. Harkins announced their resignations.

Perhaps the most significant departure is that of County Administrator John J. O'Neill Jr., who will leave July 29 to take a state job with the Maryland Environmental Service, where Harkins took over as chief July 1.

O'Neill's resignation was widely expected and even alluded to by Craig in his swearing-in ceremony this month. O'Neill, who had been administrator since 1998, said every county executive should choose his own administrator.

"I don't think it's healthy for the same person to be here forever and ever. This job requires thinking outside the box," said O'Neill, who makes $123,000 a year. "My personal opinion is every eight years or so, it's a good idea for a change."

Craig, who was picked by the County Council this month to fill the remaining 16 months of Harkins' term, named as county administrator Lorraine Costello, now the county chief of budget and management research. Her appointment must be approved by the County Council.

In other moves, planning director J. Steven Kaii-Ziegler and procurement director Lucy Slaich announced they will resign. Neither could be reached for comment Friday.

Craig said the head of the Department of Public Works and the county treasurer also were considering leaving. Neither could be reached for comment Friday.

Resignations are not uncommon during a change of administrations. But because Craig is replacing a county executive in the middle of a term, he has less time to make the transition.

Craig said he did not force the resignations, although he was looking to replace some department heads with hand-picked deputies.

"I think many of them realized they may be leaving, and they'd rather leave on their own terms than someone else's," the 56-year-old Republican said.

Craig named Deborah Henderson, a county purchasing agent, as the procurement director, in charge of county purchases. That appointment also is subject to County Council approval.

The county executive is searching for a replacement to head the planning department. Tony McClune, the department's deputy director, will serve as the interim director. Craig said McClune is not interested in being permanent director.

"The problem sometimes is people within a department are career people - they have a job. When they move to be a director, they lose that protection" and often are replaced when a new executive comes in looking to bring in his own staff, Craig said.

As director of administration, Costello will be Craig's top deputy, overseeing 1,454 county employees and a half-billion-dollar operating budget. She described her role as that of a "fiscal watchdog."

"We've been really, really lucky with money right now in the market. We want to make sure we use it wisely," she said. "The county is just facing a whole lot of challenges, and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it."

She listed one of her top challenges as finding money for school construction. Craig has set a goal to have the county's 90-plus portable classrooms removed before the end of his tenure.

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