A settlement between Montgomery County and an unsuccessful job applicant has closed the last investigation resulting from the lengthy controversy over management of the county's department of liquor control.
Irwin Feldman, who had claimed that he was passed over for a job with the liquor department because of political influence exercised on behalf of another candidate, yesterday dropped his appeal to the county's Personnel Board. In return, the county agreed to pay legal expenses and to make public a series of depositions taken in connection with the case.
Almost immediately, all sides claimed a victory of sorts. Said Berry Helfand, attorney for Frank Orifici, the man who got the job Feldman wanted: "I guess everyone had a different reason to settle. For my client it was just to keep his job."
The appeal, which was to have been heard by the Merit System Protection Board, the county's watchdog agency for personnel matters, was based on charges that the job of deputy director of the liquor department was not properly advertised. Feldman also claimed the county executive's office had improperly interfered in the screening and examination process for the job.
Yesterday the merit board released a statement outlining the agreement between Feldman and the county and noting that full hearings on the case could have cost county taxpayers more than $100,000.
The board authorized the release of more than 2,000 pages of sworn depositions taken in the case, and announced two public hearings in which any interested party can testify on the case. Based on those hearings, the board said, it may make recommendations for changes in merit system policies.
Rockville attorney Dan Cassidy said Feldman had gained "full disclosure of the facts [through release of the depositions]. That's what my client wanted all along. What did he really have to gain by going further?"
In a brief interview Feldman said he was "happy" with the settlement. When asked whether he thought his case was still valid, he added: "Let the depositions speak for themselves."
According to the office of County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, that is exactly what should happen. Gilchrist released previous statements saying that he wanted the depositions made public and that he has contended from the start Orifici's job "should not have been held hostage" by the hearing. Gilchrist also said yesterday that he would testify at the public hearings.
A county press release said the settlement had the result of removing "a cloud from over Frank Orifici's job. The entire matter can now become public."
Ironically, the settlement means that Orifici will soon be out of a job. It frees the county to proceed with a plan to abolish the post of deputy director of the liquor department -- Orifici's job -- and replace it with three other positions designed to increase the department's efficiency.
Assistant County Attorney Rocky Sorrell said Orifici will be treated as a "RIFed" employe (an employe who has lost his post because of a reduction in force) and will get priority consideration in hiring.