Council interviews Madaleno for top administrative position

Council interviews Madaleno for top administrative position

Former budget director says top priorities are pandemic response, recovery

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Rich Madaleno, the county's acting chief administrative officer, interviewed with the County Council on Tuesday for the position.

File photo

Rich Madaleno has served as Montgomery County’s acting chief administrative officer for more than a month. On Tuesday, he moved one step closer to keeping the position, succeeding Andrew Kleine, who resigned in August after violating the county’s ethics policy.

Madaleno, a former state senator who grew up in Montgomery County, has served as the county’s budget director since 2018. County Executive Marc Elrich has nominated him for chief administrative officer.

The County Council publicly interviewed Madaleno,on Tuesday. The council is scheduled to vote on his appointment on Sept. 29.

Madaleno was appointed as acting CAO on Aug. 13. Elrich told the council Tuesday that he has the “utmost respect and confidence” in Madaleno’s ability to do the job.

“I think he’s going to be a great asset as CAO. We do have familiarity with him. I think everybody here has worked with him in one form or another. … I just want to let you know that I’m happy to be presenting him today and I look forward to his ultimate confirmation and I think you’ll look forward to that too,” he said.

Kleine ran afoul of the county’s ethics policy by promoting a book he wrote about budgeting and continuing to maintain business relationships with two outside companies while serving as chief administrative officer, the county’s Ethics Commission found.

He later admitted to violating conflict-of-interest policies by promoting his book “City on the Line” at out-of-town conferences and encouraged other county employees to buy it, at the expense of the county.

Kleine agreed to pay a $5,000 fine, then submitted a resignation letter. He is being paid as chief administrative officer through Saturday.

Madaleno, who would be appointed at a salary of $250,000, would be the first county CAO with a political background.

He was a state senator representing Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Wheaton and Kensington from 2007 to 2018.

Before serving in the state Senate, he was a state delegate in the same district from 2003 to 2007.

Madaleno was first employed with the county from 1995 to 2002 as a legislative analyst and lobbyist in the county’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

He also served as a budget analyst and eventually a senior staff analyst with the state Department of Legislative Services between 1989 and 1995.

Madaleno holds a bachelor’s degree in history and Russian studies and a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University.

Asked during his council interview about his top priorities for the position, Madaleno said he was focused on responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes enhancing testing capacity, boosting contact tracing, and reopening schools and businesses, he said.

“The goal is to reopen the county and find a way to keep it open. … In the short term, to revive faith in our democratic institutions by actually getting the election done well in Montgomery County .…,” he said. “It’s going to be an election like we haven’t seen before with already 300,000 mail-in ballots requested, which is five times what happened in 2016.

“The giant, long-term goal is always to keep the Montgomery County government as amongst the nation’s top high-performing, effective and efficient local governments.”

Madaleno said he plans to enhance performance management and efficiency in county operations. He would do that by reducing vacant positions, having various existing employees focus on specific initiatives and organizing meetings with department heads to encourage collaboration.

Improving communication between the council and the administrative branch will be a key change, he said.

“A good relationship between the executive and the council is, I think, critical to the success of our entire organization. I think it’s been, unfortunately, a bumpy ride over the last year and a half,” he said.

Madaleno said he would look forward to working with the council to get the recently approved position of director of strategic partnerships funded. The position would be tasked with coordinating and communicating efforts between Elrich and the council.

With no way to predict when the pandemic will end, a new teleworking policy will be needed, as well as greater access to broadband for both county employees and students, he said.

Katz noted that Madaleno would be the first person with a political background to become CAO and asked how he planned on using his political approach to the position.

Madaleno said an effective CAO works well with others, knows how to work collaboratively and build coalitions to get things done, informs residents about the work being done and listens to their concerns.

“I’m not new to this community. I’m not new to this organization. I’ve seen the people who have operated it. I know a lot of the people in this building and people in buildings around the county,” Madaleno said. “I think if I was plucked from another state with a political background, I might say, ‘Oh, how is that going to work?’ But … my roots in this community and my skills that helped make me a successful elected official will translate directly into being a successful CAO for the county.”

The biggest mistake of the administration over the last 21 months was “attempting to push through a well thought-out, well-designed rethinking of our budget process without the buy-in of any of you,” Madaleno told the council.

The lack of communication with the council as the budget plans were built up left the council “in the dark” in regards to what the administration was looking to do, he said.

Asked if he had any potential conflicts of interest with the position, Madaleno said he has requested the county’s Ethics Commission to provide a ruling on any potential issues since Madaleno’s husband, Mark Hodge, is employed with the county’s health department as assistant chief operating officer . Hodge has worked with the county since 2001.

To address one possible conflict, all performance bonuses and salary decisions for certain employees in Hodge’s employee grade would be assigned to the deputy chief operating officer, Madaleno said. Any potential grievances involving Hodge would also be handled by someone else.

“Those were the two things that Marc Hansen, the county attorney, and I talked about that were identifiable conflicts of interest and of course, anything else that the Ethics Commission might recommend to proactively roll off any concerns,” he said.

Madaleno said that after Kleine’s violation, public trust would be restored by delivering on promises and government services.

“I think we do by demonstrating our commitment to the highest ethical standards that we can, which is one of the reasons why I want to proactively address any issues that anyone might come across with my husband’s employment,” he said. “I do think we’re looking at some changes to internal policies to make sure that the senior executives across the board don’t have outside employment.

“There should be an expectation moving forward that your focus is on this job and any senior executive job in Montgomery County is busy enough that that’s where you need to be focusing all of your attention and that there be no suggestion of a conflict or lack of focus on what the people expect you to do.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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