What did the Olszewski “Administration” know, and when did it know it?
Additional research casts more doubt on the recent claim by County Administrative Office (CAO) Stacy Rodgers that the “Administration” of Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Jr. “was not aware of the requirement” added to the County Charter in 2018 that the compensation of exempt service employees must be determined in accordance with a system proposed by the County Executive and approved by the County Council.
As described in a prior post, the County Executive has never submitted a proposed system to the council for approval, and for almost 3 ½ years has been deciding on the benefits of employment for his political appointees and other exempt service employees without council oversight.
The claim of ignorance is a defense against potential allegations that top County officials paid controversial employee William “Chris” McCollum, who was neither ill nor injured, sick leave for his absence from work since early October of 2021 knowing that they lacked legal authority to do so. All things considered, I suppose, negligent failure to comply with the law is better than willful failure.
Doesn’t former County Attorney Michael Field count?
At least one key member of the Olszewski administration was keenly aware of the requirement, and that was County Attorney Michael Field. Field was appointed County Attorney in 2010 by former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and continued as County Attorney under Olszewski until October 2019, when he became a senior advisor to Olszewski.
As it happens, Field was one of the eleven members of the 2017 Charter Revision Commission that recommended the charter amendment that was approved by County voters in 2018.
This is from the “Final Report and Recommendations” of the 2017 Charter Revision Commission issued on November 6, 2017, p. A-6:
“As summarized in a letter from the County Council to the Commission Chair on September 9, 2017, the Council has in recent months considered the necessity of legislation to address a gap in the manner in which County government handles certain personnel matters, specifically involving exempt service employees of the County. Although the Charter in Sections 505 and 801 requires the legislature to establish a Merit System to govern the compensation of classified employees, there is no similar requirement to establish a comparable system for exempt service employees, or what are known as “at-will” employees. As such, the Council asked that the Commission review this issue and consider Charter recommendations to address the situation.
During the discussion of this issue, a similar section of the Anne Arundel County Charter (Section 508) was reviewed and compared to the County’s Charter Section 505. It was noted that Anne Arundel’s Charter section addresses the issue raised by the County Council in its letter; namely, not only does it have provisions for the applicable merit system employees, but it also requires a compensation plan for employees in the exempt service to be adopted by the County Council, upon the recommendation of the County Executive.
In order to address this gap in Baltimore County’s Charter, the Commission recommends the addition of language similar to the Anne Arundel County Charter, which would require the compensation of exempt employees to be established and adopted by the County Council.”
The County Council adopted the recommendation, and it was placed on the ballot in accordance with Bill 17–18, which was sponsored by the entire council and passed unanimously. The amendment was approved by the voters at the election on November 6, 2018. It took effect on December 6, 2018, three days after Olszewski was sworn in as county executive.
The press noticed, even if Olszewski and Rodgers did not.
This is an excerpt from a story appearing in the Sun on November 6, 2018:
“One of the more substantive changes on the ballot approved by voters will give the County Council oversight over benefits granted to ‘exempt employees’ — including many top county officials. Until last year, such employees had been under an ‘executive benefits policy’ that could include lucrative perks that were never reviewed or approved by the council. Changing that system will mean that the county executive now must recommend a compensation system that will be voted on by the council.”
County officials, including the County Executive, reasonably expect the county Office of Law to apprise them of actions that need to be taken in light of changes to County law. In this case the County Attorney was the member of the Charter Commission that recommended a significant change to County law, a change embraced by the County Council and approved by the voters.
Are we really supposed to believe that no County employee, especially County Attorney Michael Field, ever brought up the necessity of implementing the charter amendment in a conversation with the County Executive or CAO, in a cabinet meeting, memo, email, etc.?
(By the way, another member of the Commission was James Benjamin, who succeeded Field as County Attorney.)
More to come.
I described in my prior post how the 2018 charter amendment was a response to a widely publicized controversy in 2017 over the benefits of exempt service employees. In a subsequent post, I will go into more detail about the apparent motive for using paid sick leave to keep McCollum on the payroll in a no-show job for nearly eight months, and how using sick leave in that manner is completely inconsistent with County law.
Readers can then form their own opinions whether the Olszewski administration simply forgot about the charter amendment, or deliberately ignored it so that it could play games with the benefits of exempt service employees.