Gender shift in filling jobs raises eyebrows

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

February 18, 2007|By Larry Carson

Clarification

In this space last week, Wendy Royalty of Ellicott City expressed opinions about County Executive Ken Ulman's decision to replace four women department heads with men. She was speaking as an individual, not in her capacity as co-chair of the Women's Leadership Network of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is known for his devotion to diversity, but a gender shift from women to men filling top appointed positions has raised a few eyebrows.

Four top offices -- chief administrative officer, information technology director, communications director and county health officer -- have shifted from female to male leadership since Ulman took office. A fifth high-ranking woman, Barbara Cook, the county solicitor, is to retire March 1.

"We need to keep an eye on him. I'm just not happy about what I'm seeing," said Wendy Royalty of Ellicott City, who is co-chair of the Women's Leadership Network of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Royalty said she backed Ulman for county executive but was particularly upset by the firing of county health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein.

"We're [Howard County] like a model of public health services. I just didn't understand that," she said.

The fact that voters changed the County Council from all male last term to three women and two men shows "the county executive is going backward," in her view.

"My gosh, if you can't find highly educated, highly qualified women in Howard County, where are you going to find them?" Royalty said.

Mary C. Lorsung, a former two-term council member (1994-2002), said, "It's unfortunate that it would even appear that women are losing their leadership spots," though she does not personally know the people Ulman hired.

The county executive has his defenders, including Nina Basu, a young Democrat who ran for the House of Delegates last year.

"I think Ken has shown himself to be someone who is very supportive of women and has always treated women as peers and equals," Basu said.

Ulman has retained several high-profile women from the administration of James N. Robey, including Marsha S. McLaughlin, the planning director, Sharon Greisz, the finance director, and Susan Rosenbaum, director of Citizens Services. He also made Nan Shull director of Human Resources, a job formerly held by a man, and elevated Evelyn Tomlin to be the first female permanent director of the Environmental Services Bureau -- the public works agency that handles trash and recycling.

Ulman noted that he chose Dr. Janet Siddiqui for appointment to the county school board, hired Joan Kennedy as county lobbyist and hired Jessica Feldmark, his former special assistant on the County Council, to replace Herman Charity in a top staff position.

Ulman, who said he received many compliments for hiring Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the former Baltimore health officer, to replace Borenstein, said women are well represented in his administration.

"In all our decisions, I look at diversity. I want to make sure our administration is reflective of the diversity of the county. However, I reject specific numbers and quotas. I still have to make decisions based on the best person."

Greisz, for example, has a vital role, he said. She runs the annual meetings with the three New York bond rating agencies that decide what interest rate the county will pay on bonds.

"We have a number of women in high-profile positions."

Services at risk

Services for Maryland's disabled people are at risk as the state faces a budget squeeze.

Gov. Martin O'Malley is not sure whether there will be a supplemental state budget this year, a spokesman said, and the governor's spending plan under General Assembly consideration has troubling gaps in it for the Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Howard County legislators are hoping to tweak the budget to at least restore $100,000 for a self-advocacy network program that is staffed by people with disabilities and helps others make better lives for themselves.

Stanley Daniello, a member of the government affairs committee of the Arc of Howard County, made several points in testifying before county legislators Feb. 8 in Ellicott City about a lack of funding for several programs. They included:

$10 million more needed to reduce the 16,000-person waiting list for services. Included are 700 disabled people in Howard County. Daniello said 41 percent of services requested are in the crisis/emergency categories.

Another $10 million needed to fully fund a cost-of-living increase that the General Assembly included in legislation last year. That funding bill called for a 3.87 percent increase to compensate for higher costs, while the governor's budget for fiscal 2008 includes a 2 percent increase.

No state money to match first-year federal funding under a grant that pays to move people from state hospitals to community-based group homes. During the first year of the grant, the federal program will pay 75 percent of the costs if the state pays the rest.

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