Charles Gilchrist has women problems.
After months of being criticized by Montgomery County women, notably council member Esther Gelman, over his few women appointees, the executive last week appointed three women to top county posts.
On the day following their appointments, however, he fired Elise Hall, 35, the director of landlord-tenant affairs.Gilchrist named his staff specialist on housing, Rick Ferrara, 35, acting director.
Moreover, one of the three new appointments, Romona Kaye Zielinski of Midland, Mich., proved controversial. Gilchrist picked the 38-year-old Zielinski to head the county Health Systems Planning Department. Members of the Health Systems Planning Board, who administer the department, questioned the circumstances of Zielinski's departure from her last job, as head of a similar board in Michigan.
Although a letter from her former employers affirming her resignation quieted rumors that she had been fired, the issue prompted the County Council to delay her confirmation.
The council this week unanimously approved Gilchrist's other two appointments, both of which promote acting department heads to permanent positions: Jacqueline Rogers as head of the Department of Housing and Community Development and Ioanna T. Morfessis as director of the Office of Economic Development.
"I just hope wherever there are competnent women they will be given every consideration for appointment," said Gelman. "I'm delighted that some have come through."
But others have accused Gilchrist of using the appointments as a smokescreen for the firing of Hall.
"That's nonsense," said Gilchrist. He explained that he had to tie the department hirings and the dismissal to council action on his plans to reorganize county departments.
Gilchrist, in what he termed an attempt to improve government efficiency, recommended some shifts in the county bureaucracy.
Recently the council approved enlarging the departments Rogers and Morfessis head but rejected Gilchrist's bid to merge the Office of Landlord and Tenant Affairs with the Department of Consumer Affairs. That action would have eliminated Hall's job.Hall is an appointee Gilchrist inherited from former county executive James Gleason.
Gilchrist said that when the council decided to leave the landord-tenant office intact, he had to make a decision on Hall.
"He told me he had chosen to take a new direction," said Hall, who admitted being upset about her dismissal.
"I've been with the agency since its inception," she said. "I think the agency performed with high professionalism and its track record is admirable. In six years, we've never lost a court case."
According to observers, some county tenant advocates felt Hall was too prolandlord.
"I don't know that the executive believed that," said Rick Ferrara, who replaced Hall this week. "But the fact that she left that impression with tenant associations was a problem. I hope to try not to repeat that, but only time will tell whether I'll be successful."
Both Rogers and Morfessis will be nonmerit employes, that is, appointees not within the county system. Rogers, 38, will earn $44,000 and Morfessis, 28, will earn $35,000. The two women say they have worked together before and look forward to cooperation between their departments.
Zielinski, if approved by the council, would be paid $45,400.
Gilchrist said Rogers and Morfessis were obvious choices for their jobs but added that he selected Zielinski because he sought a woman for that position.
"They are all excellent choices," Gilchrist added.