A report submitted to the Montgomery County Council yesterday recommended an examination of the county's merit system, "especially its interrelationship, or lack of it," with County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.
The report by the county's Merit System Protection Board was the result of a study of allegations into potential violations of the merit system in the operation of the Department of Liquor Control. The allegations were made by Leonard Colodny, a former consultant to Gilchrist.
The board's conclusions were based on a finding that while the actions of county officials may not have directly violated personnel regulations, their actions "demonstrate an attempt to circumvent at least the spirit and intent of the merit system."
County attorneys met in private with the merit board for three hours last night and argued that the board has no authority to recommend that Frank Orifici be removed from his job as deputy director of the Department of Liquor Control, and that Irwin Feldman, who said he was denied an interview for that position, has no right to appeal his case. The meeting ended without a decision.
The attorneys were acting with the support of Gilchrist, who said he did not like the idea of the board discussing his actions or those of his former assistant, Gerard Evans.
"I object to holding an innocent man's job hostage to provide a forum to review my conduct or that of a former aide," Gilchrist said yesterday. He said the Merit System Protection Board has the authority to review the hiring, but that the county attorney had determined that it lacked the authority to hold the hearing.
The merit board's report to the council, which emerged from an 18-month-old controversy over the way county jobs are awarded, focused on two allegations surrounding Colodny, once hired as a consultant by Gilchrist.
Specifically, the board investigated charges that State Comptroller Louis Goldstein "interfered" with the processing of Colodny's application for the deputy directorship of the Department of Liquor Control, and an allegation that Colodny was improperly promised a position within the merit system by county officials.
But the board ruled that "the evidence is clear that Mr. Colodny's application was eliminated from further consideration without regard to any interference from any outside pressure."
Conspicuous in its absence from the board's investigation was any testimony from Goldstein. "It should be noted that the investigation was unable to elicit the cooperation of Goldstein," the report said, "although several attempts were made to obtain his sworn testimony."
The crux of the second allegation revolved around the alleged Jan. 28 conversation involving Gilchrist, his former aide Evans, Colodny, and Del. Ida Ruben (D-Montgomery) in which Gilchrist allegedly offered Colodny the job of assistant chief of of the division of liquor stores for the Liquor Control Department.
But the report concluded that Colodny's testimony as to the content of that conversation "is not substantially corroborated by Ms. Ruben," who testified to the board that she could not categorically state that the offer was made "although it was her impression" that the offer did occur.
Gilchrist has stated for the record that he should "urge competent people to apply for jobs in the county." The board had no problems with that, but found that "the county executive and his staff did more than simply encourage Mr. Colodny to apply for a merit position."
The report also cited that that the county's chief administrative officer, Robert Wilson, reopened the stated job position so that Colodny could apply. The board said that, while this may not have directly contradicted personnel regulations "the actions demonstrate an attempt to circumvent at least the spirit and intent of the merit system."
In the issue of the Feldman case, scheduled for consideration by the merit board last night, the county argued that Feldman's appeal should be dismissed because he allegedly failed to file an appeal 10 working days after the job decision, and that the appeal could also be denied because Feldman was a "non-employe" applicant.
But Feldman's attorney, Dan Cassidy, argued that Feldman "did have a right to appeal and that he does have standing" for a case.