County's hiring performance raises questions

November 06, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

All right, so would every person associated with Washington County government who is NOT under some form of inquiry please raise your hands?

OK, good, there's still one or two.

Let's see, we've got a commissioner charged with assault, PenMar officials claiming a former employee with the assistance of a board member improperly deleted computer files and now the tourism chief under investigation for alleged violation of financial policy.

And this isn't to mention that a lot of county officials have simply vanished without explanation like the characters in a Stephen King novel. Personnel director Alan Davis and EDC chiefs Dick Palmer and John Howard left without us being told why. PenMar's got a revolving door, and what's the longevity record at the Gaming Commission, six months? There was sewer chief Lynn Palmer, no explanation necessary, and the "unpleasantness" at Black Rock.

Washington County makes the Bermuda Triangle look like Fort Knox. No wonder INVESCO keeps snuggling up to the county for our pension contract. Given the short tenures, what's the average monthly payout, $1.49?


So does the county keep hiring bad people, or does it hire good people who decide after about two weeks that they can't stand working here? Probably some of each. But either way, it suggests a problem.

Or it suggests a problem to people of reason, at any rate. But not to our County Commissioners. To anyone employing a smidgen of logic, all the above evidence would clearly point to something rotten at the top of the administration ladder.

At $30,000 each, you would think holding this administration accountable would be part of the job description for a commissioner. For 30 grand, is a tight ship too much to ask? Apparently so. We need Warren Buffet, but we've got Jimmy Buffett.

The tourism department and its then-$500,000 budget were privatized in 1997, removing a large degree of commissioner oversight. Yeah, that move worked out. With a quickly growing budget, this means Hart was responsible for well over $4 million during the past six years.

For the money, tourism officials say they got a lot, including an updated visitor's guide and an Internet Web site.

Tourism board members are clearly selling Hart short. Who could forget that the $4 million also brought us a new tourism slogan, "Making Maryland Memories" and the ad campaign that encouraged the local populace not to kill the tourists - unless one tried to marry your sister, in which case you were to "run him down."

And all the wearying trips the tourism brass had to take to places like London, San Diego and Puerto Rico to drum up convention business. And the proposal for a convention center, to follow on the heels of such spectacular financial successes as Rocky Gap.

Now there's a track record.

Of course, to County Commissioner Greg Snook, who helped engineer the move, the privatization move came up roses. "It has worked well..." Snook said.

Um, Greg? The director resigned under an investigation, and to show for your $4 million you have a new Web site. I'm curious: What in your eyes would have constituted failure, a demonstrated link between the tourism department and al-Qaida?

Nothing against the Forty Men and Eight Horses, but if you overlay the convention business attracted on top of the money that's been spent attracting it, I'm thinking that the hotels might have been better served keeping the 6 percent room tax and doing their own promotion themselves.

I know the travel board has some good people and with an able leader at the helm it can be a success; it's just that with this county's track record for hiring, I think we can be excused for not holding our collective breath.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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