Longtime solicitor set to leave Ulman team

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

February 11, 2007|By Larry Carson

Another top appointed official is leaving the Ulman administration, but veteran County Solicitor Barbara Cook said she is retiring on her own terms.

The job as the county's chief legal adviser is unique in that the solicitor is appointed for a four-year term by the executive and is confirmed by the County Council.

With her 65th birthday fast approaching and a retired husband and five grandchildren younger than age 4 beckoning, Cook said she did not want to commit to another full term, and she could not see resigning midterm, leaving County Executive Ken Ulman in the lurch.

"Four years is too long," she said.

By retiring March 1, she gives Ulman the chance to recruit someone at the start of his term, which is important, because the charter requires the county solicitor to live in Howard County and have been a county resident for at least two years immediately before taking the job. An applicant also must be a practicing attorney in Maryland for at least five years.

Ulman spokesman Kevin Enright said the executive "has given a lot of thought" to who might succeed Cook but is working through the options.

Deputy County Solicitor Paul Johnson, an attorney in the office since 1979, will be interim solicitor, Enright said.

Cook, who earns $145,995, said she considers her departure part of the generational change in county government that has been going on for several years and was accelerated with the election of Ulman, 32.

Many government officials who came to work in the 1970s when Howard County was growing at a blistering pace are reaching retirement age.

The combination of the retirements and the 11 new staff and departmental appointments Ulman has made constitute the biggest change at the top of Howard County government in years.

Cook first came to the law office in 1979 but left to go into private practice in 1986. After now-Del. Elizabeth Bobo was elected county executive that year, she invited Cook to come back in the top job, and Cook has held the post for the two decades since.

"It's been a wonderful, wonderful experience," Cook said. "I can't imagine a better professional experience. Every executive and council group has been different."

Her office gives legal advice to every county agency and has fought some high-profile battles, from attempts by outraged citizens to put tax increases and zoning changes on referendum to enforcing zoning laws against the Pack Shack, an adult book and video store on U.S. 40 that still will be in business when Cook leaves office.

She started with an all-Democratic County Council and executive, but served Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker and a majority GOP council in the mid-1990s.

"It's fun. It's a wonderful chance to see how things work," she said.

She joked that as a retiree "I'll probably be bored out of my mind," though her family should keep her busy, she said, and she might do volunteer legal work.

Ulman staff costs

While the County Council mulls over an Ulman administration request to transfer $400,000 from contingency funds to pay for unbudgeted, unused leave time and severance for a handful of departed senior appointed county officials, the new county executive has run up a few bills of his own.

In assembling his staff, Ulman is paying somewhat better than former Executive James N. Robey did and has slightly expanded the executive staff, though the added costs apply to only half the current budget year, which began July 1 last year and ends June 30.

It is also hard to make straight comparisons because Ulman is restructuring the executive staff. Former campaign manager Arthur McGreevy, for instance, is to serve as an assistant county solicitor and the county's labor negotiator, combining two jobs into one.

But Ulman also has created a new job of chief of staff, filled by Aaron Greenfield at $150,405 a year, and he hired Luis Valdivieso for a $52,146 staff job handling constituent complaints.

Technically, Greenfield took an existing job slot as deputy chief administrative officer, who was paid $118,414. Lonnie Robbins used to have that job, but Ulman promoted him to be chief administrative officer at $154,357 a year, about $14,000 less than what recently retired Raquel Sanudo earned for the same job.

Ulman spokesman Enright, who earns nearly $19,000 a year more than Victoria Goodman, whom he replaced, said several positions are vacant, saving some money. But to date the new folks are costing about $150,000 a year (or $75,000 for the remaining half-year) more than the Robey appointees they have replaced, according to figures supplied by Enright.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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