In a 5-to-4 decision this week, the Prince George's County Council upheld county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.'s reorganization proposal abolishing the department of human resources and creating a new department of the aging.
The close vote came after a public hearing at which many employees of the department testified against the reorganization plan.Confusion over a reshuffling of DHR personnel into new positions in other departments and over employees' labor jurisdictions were major concerns.
Other Council actions granted sewer allocations, the final go-ahead for development in the county, to several projects, including a giant office, restaurant, hotel and retail operation the Shell Oil Company plans to build at New Carroilton, and for a 100,000-square-foot office building for the Greenbelt Golden Triangle by developer Kenneth H. Michael.
The Council also endorsed a program of intensive "litter awareness" sponsored by the Citizens Concerned for a Cleaner County. The endorsement came as the CCCC prepares for a May 7 countywide cleanup day.
The decision to support Kelly's reorganization plan prompted heated debate among the Council members over potential racial, big government and antilabor issues that they said the reorganization plan raised.
Kelly proposed the plan, which moves various agencies in the DHR to the personnel, program planning and economic development, health and aging departments, on April 6. He said the move would upgrade county resource services, saving the county $100,000 without having to lay off any employees.
Councilman Francis B. Francois summed up the proposal when he said, 'The move will upgrade the department in services of the aging. It transfers the manpower program to the personnel department and it gets rid of a problem (DHR). It also spreads employment opportunities and racial balance in the county government."
But, he added, in taking a dissenting view on the issue, "There is no special need for the department of aging, as a division within DHR it is already one of the best in the state under the current organization structure. It will just mean more bureaucracy.
"The reorganization will inject DHR employees into departments where they are not wanted. This plan (Kelly's) says, "This is a problem department, let's get rid of it.
"I don't think this is a solution to the problem, but an avoidance of it."
Several speakers responded to the executive order, calling it "an indictment of blacks in Prince George's County" by saying they had been "stripped of our pride by inferring the division was inefficient."
"It is a dumping ground for blacks - an employment ghetto for blacks," said Francois. "At the beginning, we hired blacks because of their unique skills in dealing with the black community. But after the Model Cities program ended, instead of moving them (employees) into other areas of the county government, we moved them into the same department (DHR)."
"There has definitely been a lack of commitment on the Council's part," said Councilman Parris N. Glendening. "And the reorganization doesn't mean we are going to abandon anyone. We have got to make these changes.By holding those employees in the DHR, they can only go so far. They become stagnant. In the move, there will be better training, better opportunities. I have not been approached by one black leader who has been opposed to this."
Councilman Gerard McDonough supported the reorganization. "The times are changing, and the approach is chaning to deal with these problems. How do you defend a charge of being racist? The DHR was created but given no direction, no support, no cheerleading. In business, the white guilt money has dried up. The white guilt to set up a department to handle human resources has dried up. We have to take it on the head. Nobody wanted to get involved in it, but under the circumstances, they have done a heck of a job."
"In the Washington area the action is here (Prince George's County) as far as integrating socially. In our residential neighborhoods we are seeing this. Not to integrate this government would be a disaster."