Two weeks after Charles Gilchrist was elected Montgomery County executive, he and his advisers met with outgoing county executive James Gleason to discuss the transition. During the meeting, Gleason wanted to talk about sewer problems and legal issues, but one of Gilchrist's advisers, Jack Sexton, wanted to talk about something else.
"How many jobs are there?" Sexton, a prominent Democrat, asked several times. "How many political appointments?"
The answer did not please either Sexton or Gilchrist. One of the 6,000 people employed by Montgomery County, the county executive could hire and fire only 24.
In the two years since that meeting, Gilchrist has made a determined effort to transfer more jobs from the jurisdiction of the county merit system to his direct control. In Gilchris's view, he is simply trying to make the county government more responsive to his directives, but to his critics in reform-minded Montgomery County, he is trying to reintroduce patronage.
The criticism of Gilchrist consists mainly of the charge that he has undermined the merit system by rewarding his friends with jobs. It was sparked by the disclosure last week that two of his aides had offered a political friend, Leonard Colodny, two merit jobs in taped telephone conversations that took place in February, and the possiblility that Gilchrist himself had offered Colodny a merit job during a meeting in Gilchrist's office in January.
Until the existence of the tapes were reported in newspaper stories last week, Gilchrist and his aides flatly denied ever offering any friend a merit job. But last week, Gilchrist admitted the job offers, although he said they had been made with the understanding that the applicant would have to go through normal merit system procedures.
Interviews with county officials and with persons who have been offered merit jobs indicate that normal merit system procedures in Montgomery have often been subject to political pressures. During the past two years Gilchrist and his aides have influenced the outcome of the personnel process in at least three ways: suggesting that friends apply for certain jobs, choosing the persons who interview and judge applicants for a job, and recommending a certain person for a job to the department head.
Gilchrist says that such pressures are justifiable in light of the restraints the merit system puts on him, and says that in the future he expects to use such pressures more often.
"I should be able to appoint people who share my attitude toward public responsibility," Gilchrist said yesterday, referring to both merit and nonmerit positions. "I'm responsible by the electorate to do something, to implement policies that make sense, and I don't know how you do that unless you have some way to get that going."
In at least two instances Gilchrist tried to gain greater control over employes by asking the County Council to change merit jobs to political appointments. In one case, he succeeded. Today, the job of county lobbyist to the state legislature -- once a merit job held by Ed Sealover -- is held by Blair Lee IV, who was appointed by Gilchrist. In the other case, Gilchrist failed. His press secretary, Charles Maier, who also was a press secretary to Gleason, continues to hold a merit job, despite Gilchrist's attempts to appoint someone else to that position.
But in most cases, Gilchrist and his aides have used more subtle means to control who is hired by the county. Instead of asking the council to change merit jobs to political appointments, they have used various means to get their friends hired for merit jobs.
Some county officials object to such influence. They say the county's merit system was not meant to be susceptible to political pressures. Without the merit system, they argue, the quality of county government would fluctuate wildly as control of the chief executive's office shifted from one party to another.
Under the merit system, when a vacancy occurs, the department head submits a form explaining the job to the personnel office, which advertises the position. Three interviewers, usually two department heads and the member of an advisory panel, then read the applications and rate the applicants. Some of the applicants who receive "outstanding" ratings are asked to appear for interviews.
Then the interviewers send the names of the best applicants to the department head, who chooses one. The department head is not obliged to pick the applicant with the highest score.
Gilchrist and his aides have put pressure on this process by suggesting that their friends apply for certain jobs, by carefully selecting the persons who evaluate and interview the applicants, and by recommending their friends to department heads for jobs.
Consider, for example, the effect of "recommendations."
Last fall the brother of Gilchrist's aide, Gerry Evans, wanted a job as a policeman. Pat Evans was among 50 applicants -- all rated as "outstanding" by the personnel board -- who were under consideration for five jobs as police officers.
At one point, three applicants, including Pat Evans, met with Gerry Evans in Evans' office. There, according to one source, Evans promised the three that he could get them all "on board"
Evans has denied ever making such a promise.
As things turned out, however, Evans' brother, Pat, and one of the other applicants who met that day in Evans' office did get police jobs.
Yesterday, Police Chief Bernard Crooke said that Gerry Evans mentioned to him that his brother was one of the applcants for a job. Crooke denied that the conversation had anything to do with his selection of Pat Evans as a police officer.
I felt it would be a shame to take their relationship into consideration and not give him a job because of it," Crooke said.
In another instance, Evans telephoned Robert Passmore, director of the Department of Liquor Control, and recommended Frank Orifici for the merit job of deputy director. Orifici, a relative of one of Gilchrist's advisers, Charles Buscher, was on a list of six outstanding candidates. He got the job.
And last week, Gilchrist said he at one point would have recommended Colodny to Passmore for the job of assistant manager of a liquor store.In a taped conversation, Evans offered Colodny that job before he even applied for it.
In other cases, friends of Gilchrist or his aides have received merit jobs after county officials suggested that they apply for the jobs or after they told county officials they would apply for the jobs.
Evans' childhood friend, Steve Cannon, received a job in the recreation department in January after he told Evans he was going to apply for the job, Cannon said.
Alexander Greene, Gilchrist's longtime neighbor and former mayor of Rockville, received a $44,000-a-year merit job as a community and government relations specialist after Gilchrist suggested he apply, according to Greene. r
Craig Gerhardt, who had been chief administrative officer Robert Wilson's aide in Prince George's County, received his Montgomery County merit job as a public administration interm responsible to Wilson after Wilson suggested he apply for the job.
And William Mitchell, chief of the employment division, received his merit job after Wilson suggested he apply. Mitchell had been in charge of hiring in Prince George's County when Wilson was chief administrative officer there.
Almost always, county officials' friends get "outstanding" ratings by the personnel department, and are asked to appear for an interview. The reason for this has to do with the leanings of the persons selected by Mitchell to rate and then interview applicants.
When Frank Orifici and 126 other applicants applied for the job of deputy director of the Department of Liquor Control, for example, one of the three persons who rated Orifici's application as "outstanding" and then asked him to appear for an interview was Pierre Eaton, a radio station manager who had done business for years with Orifici, a liquor salesman.
It was Evan's idea to put Eaton on the interview panel, even though he later admitted associates that he knew of Eaton's business deals with Orifici. Mitchell agreed to let Eaton be one of the interviewers, and it later came about that Orifici's name was one of six "outstanding" names sent to Passmore. Then came the phone call from Evans to Passmore, and Orifici got the job.