March 22, 2005

Acting as a committee of the whole, County Council decided what it will pay its new staff lawyer and selected the applicant to whom it will offer the newly authorized job of financial advisor.

Although, technically speaking, those decisions were made in public in compliance with the state's open-meeting law, the maneuvering -- political and otherwise -- which led up to them took place behind closed doors in an executive session which lasted for almost two hours on Mar. 21.

The dénouement, when it finally came, raised more questions than it answered.

The prospective advisor, for instance, was identified only as Candidate 'A'. He or she was the choice

of nine of the 12 Council members present. Councilmen John Cartier, Penrose Hollins and Robert Weiner preferred Candidate 'C'. No one backed Candidate 'B'.

What observers found interesting there was the division among the members. Cartier, Hollins and Weiner -- along with Councilman Jea Street, who did not attend the meeting -- have been outspoken in their support of former auditor Robert Hicks. The financial advisor job was created, after Council fired Hicks, to handle a responsibility which Hicks had been assigned in addition to his auditing function. A new auditor has not yet been chosen.

Council president Paul Clark said after the meeting that the aliases were assigned to protect the identities of the job applicants until they actually accepted a position. Among other things, he said, that would keep their present bosses from learning that they were job hunting. "The people we interviewed wanted it that way," Clark said.

Even more confusing was the fact that Council members voted unanimously in favor of a starting salary of $110,982 for Wendy

Department heads named

County Executive Christopher Coons nominated Anne Farley to be general manager of the Department of Community Services and Charlotte Crowell to be human resources officer.

The appointments are subject of confirmation by County Council.

Farley is director of employment and training with the state Department of Labor. Crowell has been in personnel and employee relations positions with Hercules Inc. since 1979.

Chief administrative officer David Singleton told Council's personnel committee that Coons will nominate a chief financial officer as soon as the prospective appointee has had an opportunity to inform associates.

Danner, who went by the pseudoname Candidate 'A' when she was selected to be counsel to Council as the position which formerly was Council attorney is now known.

Before going into executive session, Council members reportedly voted six-to-five to approve that salary. Any action, however, requires affirmative votes by seven members, a majority of the 13-member Council. At that time, Councilman David Tackett also was absent. Reportedly opposing the salary, in addition to Cartier, Hollins and Weiner were Councilwoman Patty Powell and Councilman William Tansey.

The executive session ended soon after Tackett arrived.

Asked after the unanimous vote what had happened to bring about such a drastic change in how his colleagues lined up on the issue, Tackett said he did not know. He said he had not made his position known until the roll call in open session.

Councilman Timothy Sheldon, who presided over the meeting in his role as chairman of Council's personnel committee, said no poll was taken during the executive session. State law prohibits a public body from taking any formal action out of the public view.

There was no discussion about the matter among Council members before the roll-call vote was taken.

Weiner said that he changed his vote on the salary because the outgoing Council attorney, Carol Dulin, is to get a commensurate salary increase retroactive to Jan. 17, when she was appointed to be  county solicitor in the county's law department. She had agreed to stay on with Council until her successor was hired, which would have had the effect of her giving up additional income to which the executive branch position entitled her.

Dulin's retroactive raise, however, was provided for in an ordinance which Council enacted unanimously on Mar. 8.

Clark, who moved to reconsider the salary issue as soon as the committee returned from executive to open session, said nothing improper had been done while the doors were closed. He said the state law shields "sensitive personnel matters" from public disclosure as a protection for the privacy of the individuals who are involved.

As to the identity of the person chosen to be financial advisor, Clark said, "We'd like to keep that private till we negotiate a salary." He said that Council does not intend to ever make known the identities of the unsuccessful candidates.

"We've been advised by our attorney that that is fully in keeping with what the law said we have to do," he said.

Danner's hiring reportedly was agreed to by a seven-to-six vote on Mar. 14. Clark, Sheldon, Tackett, Councilmen James Bell, Joseph Reda and George Smiley, and Councilwoman Karen Venezky comprised the majority in that instance.

Danner, who formerly worked in both the state attorney general's office and the county law department, is with the Saul Ewing law firm and specializes in land use matters. Clark's wife, Pam Scott, also works for that firm and also specializes in land use matters. Danner's appointment is effective Apr. 1.

© 2005. All rights reserved.

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