Ulman names his top administrative picks

Executive chooses Howard insider, Arundel official

November 29, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

One veteran insider and one Anne Arundel County official are Howard County executive-elect Ken Ulman's choices for the two top jobs in his administration.

Lonnie Robbins, a 17-year Howard County official, is Ulman's choice for chief administrative officer -- a $154,000 post and the county's top appointed position. Robbins, 56, of Ellicott City, is a deputy administrative officer under retiring Raquel Sanudo, but his promotion, starting Jan. 3, makes him the first African-American to hold such a prominent county government post.

The new executive and County Council are to be sworn in Monday night.

"I think Lonnie is a stellar choice. He's a solid individual and a competent professional," said C. Vernon Gray, a former five-term County Council member who is serving on Ulman's transition team.

"Wow," was Robbins' first public comment about getting the promotion.

"I'm humbled and very honored to serve. I'm truly excited. I can hardly keep it in," he said, hugging Ulman after the announcement at yesterday's news conference in the George Howard Building.

Aaron Greenfield, chief executive officer of Anne Arundel County's Economic Development Corp., is to be Ulman's chief of staff, though technically, he will take Robbins' current title at a salary of $150,000. He is to start Tuesday.

Greenfield, 35, of Lutherville, is a 1990 Howard High School graduate who worked for nearly four years as an assistant city solicitor for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration, followed by a short stint as associate corporate counsel at 1st Mariner Bancorp, and as executive director of the Maryland Business Council. He took the Anne Arundel job in March and has been helping to plan for local growth tied to the U.S. military's base realignment and closure.

Greenfield, who helped in Ulman's election campaign, knows the executive from college at the University of Maryland, College Park and socially through distant family ties.

"This is very much a coming home. In many ways I'm returning to my roots," he said.

Greenfield's wife, Pamela Kessler, is an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore. Greenfield said he, his wife and two young daughters expect to move to Howard County soon.

"These are two of the finest people I know," Ulman said in introducing them.

Robbins is a 30-year county resident who served 15 years as an assistant county solicitor. "His institutional knowledge is second to none," Ulman said, and his "calm demeanor" is another valuable asset for a high-stress job.

Ulman said he is convinced that Howard County should join other metropolitan counties in having an executive chief of staff, which would be a new position. Greenfield would be Ulman's liaison to county departments not under direct control of Robbins, and he would also take over General Assembly lobbying duties in January.

Guy Guzzone, who chairs Ulman's transition team, said a chief of staff structure would provide greater accountability and efficiency in county government.

Under the county charter, the chief administrative officer acts as county executive when the executive is out of the county, and supervises eight county offices, including budget and human resources. Ulman said Greenfield would oversee other departments such as public works and planning and zoning, though department heads would also have direct access to him, especially those leading public safety agencies.

Ulman's picks were generally well received, though most people know little about Greenfield.

Jenkins Odoms, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Ulman's choice shows his commitment to be a "real county executive who is going to serve all the people."

Odoms said he is less concerned with Robbins' race, however, than with his abilities.

"My position is I want qualified people," Odoms said. "I don't want someone in there just because they are black."

Ulman said race played no role in his selection of Robbins. He has worked with Robbins over the past four years, and "he's been someone I knew I could go to," Ulman said.

Incoming County Council members also praised the choice of Robbins.

"He appears to be a relatively logical choice," said County Councilman-elect Greg Fox, the new council's only Republican.

Councilwoman-elect Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, called Robbins "an excellent choice."

Sanudo, who will remain in office until January to help with the transition, said Robbins "will be very good for the job. He gets along well with employees. He's a likable person."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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