Unions Criticize Top Montgomery Official in Letter
Accuse chief administrative officer of obstructing goals of labor movement
The leaders of three Montgomery County unions wrote County Executive Marc Elrich last month, accusing Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine of “hindering progress” in relations between labor and county officials.
The Aug. 28 letter is signed by Gino Renne, the president of the county government employees’ union; Torrie L. Cooke, president of the police union; and Jeffrey Buddle, the president of the local firefighters’ union.
The letter alleges that Kleine is “undermining the County Executive’s Office” and thwarting a county employee who is supposed to be a liaison between labor and the employer.
The county hired Chief Labor Relations Officer Steve Sluchansky in May to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the unions and implement labor agreements, among other responsibilities.
The letter states that department heads in county government have received approval from Kleine to “ignore direction” from Sluchansky and that the unions can’t resolve “the most basic of issues.”
“To our knowledge the Chief Labor Relations Officer does not have the support staff, office space, and labor team necessary to accomplish your vision of collaboration. … We are interested in working to make things better for the County and the members we represent. If that is not what your administration is interested in, then we have no interest in advancing an agenda that does not wholly include labor,” the letter states.
Two phone messages left for each of the union leaders Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned. Additionally, Elrich did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
Kleine said in an interview that he was shown the letter for the first time Wednesday and found it “disappointing.”
He said he thinks the unions’ dissatisfaction stems from a series of changes, including the need to fill vacant positions in the labor relations office, and moving it into a new physical space within the county executive’s office building.
“I understand that the union leaders are impatient for the changes in cultural change that we are trying to implement. These things don’t happen overnight. The new labor relations office is filling vacant positions. Because we are resource constrained, addressing the administrative support issues has taken longer than we would’ve liked,” he said.
Kleine would not say who showed him the letter Wednesday and wasn’t sure why he hadn’t seen it sooner.
“I’m not sure what held it up. We get a lot of letters here and we have a person filling in in our correspondence position, so that may have something to do with it,” he said.
Kleine said the charge that he has prevented Sluchansky from doing his job is not true and the two have a good relationship.
“We are standing up a new office and introducing new ideas for labor relations and Steve is the point person on those issues,” he said.
Kleine said he and Elrich are “on the same page” on labor relations and he regularly communicates with the unions.
“Where there are disagreements about management issues or management practices, we want those addressed proactively,” he said.
Kleine has come under scrutiny for a contractual relationship with the company Balancing Act, from which the county purchased software last year to conduct budget simulations.
Barry Hudson, a spokesman in the county executive’s office, confirmed Monday that “the matter is under review” by the county’s ethics commission.
Several exchanges on Twitter between Balancing Act and Kleine have shown the CAO promoting his book “City on the Line,” including several in May from the Government Finance Officers Association conference in Los Angeles.
When asked about the tweets, Kleine declined to comment, saying the matter was part of the ethics commission’s review. Kleine also would not discuss his relationship with Balancing Act because it was related to the commission’s probe.
Robert Cobb, the ethics commission director, declined to answer questions about Kleine on Tuesday.
“The ethics commission has no comment,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org