County Executive Moves To Reorganize Staffing, Saving $750,000

County Executive Moves To Reorganize Staffing, Saving $750,000

Proposal designed to increase accountability, streamline

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County Executive Marc Elrich has put forward a plan to eliminate several lower-level management positions in his cabinet that come with protected salaries and benefits, known as merit positions, and create new non-merit positions.

The effort follows Elrich’s campaign pledge to reorganize county government to streamline services. His plan, which requires County Council approval, would save an estimated $750,000 annually.

In an interview Wednesday, Elrich said his proposal has more to do with holding cabinet leaders accountable.

“Basically the only people you [the county executive] appoint are department heads, but they’re really important people… we want to have more positions where if we’re trying to get something done, there’s more accountability to get things done,” he said. “With an appointed position, if something’s not getting done, you have the ability to find someone to do what you expect.”

Elrich has said that he believes the county’s top-level administrators are paid too much and that he plans to make salary reductions. So far, his chief administrative officer, budget director, recreation director and environmental director have all been paid less than their predecessors.

A county government union representing 7,000 government employees supports the change because its leader, Gino Renne, believes that by shifting more positions into the county executive’s office, employees will be held accountable.

“The problem that any executive has coming into office, there’s a whole level of senior management positions that fall under the merit system, and these become career bureaucratic positions,” Renne said.

The county’s merit system is similar to the federal government’s civil service system, in that the salaries of various positions differ based on experience, part or full-time status, level of importance and other factors.

Elrich’s plan would:

– Eliminate four merit positions in the departments of finance, liquor control, human resources and procurement. Elrich’s plan would also eliminate a technology specialist in his office.

– Add three non-merit positions in the county’s executive’s office that include a chief labor relations officer, chief digital officer and chief equity officer.

– Convert six merit positions into non-merit ones in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, Department of General Services, Department of Transportation and Department of Technology Services.

County Council President Nancy Navarro said that she hasn’t spoken with anyone in Elrich’s administration about the reorganization bill, which was introduced to council Tuesday. She said the county executive had talked in the past about reorganizing the administration.

“He had in the past expressed the need to have more flexibility in county government,” she said. “I’m not necessarily surprised the county executive would want to make some modifications.”

Navarro said the council would hold a public hearing on the bill next month, followed by at least one committee work session before the full council votes.

Renne, the president of the county’s UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO union, said legislation such as this as badly needed for county government and he is pleased that the labor relations officer position will be directly in Elrich’s office.

Renne served on Elrich’s transition team and MCGEO was one of the unions that endorsed Elrich during the primary and general election campaigns.

Renne said he is pleased that the county executive is making sure that department managers aren’t being paid more than U.S. cabinet secretaries, who make upwards of $200,000.

“Our consultants’ analysis suggests that this [salary level] is about 25 percent above the regional market, and I can tell you from personal experience we are not getting above 25 percent worth of value of that 25 percent being paid,” he said.

Renne said an unwillingness of some department heads to work with the union in the past has resulted in poor morale and employees abusing sick leave in some cases.

“That drives your overtime and reduces your productivity,” he said.

Among the former department managers Renne said had a poor relationship with the union was Jennifer Hughes, the former budget director, who retired last year at the end of County Executive Ike Leggett’s third term. Hughes had said previously that her retirement was planned.

In an interview this week, Hughes said there is “nothing of significance” that her department did when it came to collective bargaining, and that Renne’s comments were uncalled for.

“For the union president to personalize a relationship that by its nature has a tension is unprofessional and unfortunate, and does not serve the residents of Montgomery County or the taxpayers very well,” she said.

Hughes said she questions Elrich’s plan because there is a possibility that institutional knowledge will be lost from the elimination of several government positions.

“The point is, why? Why do they think it will help them achieve what they’re trying to achieve without hurting the function of county government in the long run?” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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