Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer would have broad new powers to make political appointments in an expanded county government under a proposal released yesterday that would make major changes in the county's highly regarded civil service system.
The recommendations, drafted by a 25-member commission appointed by Kramer, could cost an estimated $1.5 million to implement and are likely to spark controversy because they enlarge government and shift more power to the executive.
The commission recommended the addition of offices for purchasing and auditing, an increase in the number of community service centers, the creation of deputy directors in all major departments, and the hiring of a press secretary for the county executive.
And, in what are seen as potentially explosive issues affecting the county's merit system, the group proposed changing the way a personnel watchdog board is appointed, permitting Kramer to appoint eight department heads now under civil service, and allowing an increase in the number of other political appointments.
Montgomery's merit personnel system is a source of tradition and pride to many residents and officials who see it as the heart of a professional government of 5,000 employees in 26 agencies. Attempts to change the system historically have been resisted, partly because so many county residents are federal workers whose own careers are protected and nurtured by a civil service system.
At a morning news conference in which the report was presented, Kramer said it was too soon to say which of the commission's 13 specific recommendations he would support. He said he needs to study the report and to discuss it with members of his administration and the County Council before deciding which changes to implement.
"One of the concerns I have is with the fiscal impact," Kramer said, noting that the commission's overall conclusion is that "government is working and working well." There should be good reasons, operationally and fiscally, for any change, he said.
Any government reorganization would be subject to approval by the County Council, and any proposal requiring a change in the County Charter -- such as those affecting the merit system -- must be approved by Montgomery voters.
Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer and a political confidant of Kramer's who was chairman of the commission, said he realizes the merit system changes might be controversial, but said they are not at all revolutionary. The commission, he said, recognized the importance of a strong professional work force but also of the "political accountability and responsibility" of the executive to make appointments of key officials.
He said there seems to be a perception that officials appointed directly by the executive and not subject to the competitive merit system are "political," and morally or professionally inferior. "The commission rejects this negative perception," Davis said.
Davis said that some of the positions now under the merit system were placed there by previous councils that were waging political vendettas against a particular executive. "Why should the director of transportation be appointed by the executive and not, say, the director of consumer affairs?" he said.
Two members of the Commission on the Structure of Montgomery County Government objected to the changes. R. Scott Fosler, a former council member, called the changes "questionable," and Joseph Gebhardt, a lawyer who supported David Scull, Kramer's opponent in the 1986 executive race, said the proposal to switch the appointment of the Merit System Protection Board from the County Council to the executive "will clearly signal a reduced commitment to the county civil service."
The proposal to give the executive the power of appointments to the merit board, which hears various employee grievances, already has prompted a wave of opposition because another body, the Charter Review Commission, previously made the same recommendation.
A public hearing on the recommendations of the charter commission was held last night, and in testimony prepared for the hearing, the current board and the union representing a majority of county employees objected. "It ain't broke, so don't fix it," said William Thompson, attorney for the Montgomery County Government Employee Organization, a division of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400.
Sandra M. King-Shaw, chairwoman of the board, said that 90 percent of Montgomery's government workers are in the executive branch and that it is a good precaution to have the council, rather than the executive, appoint the board.