A report by Montgomery County's legislative oversight office has recommended a major overhaul of the county's zoning appeals board after officials said they found serious management problems that have delayed numerous board decisions.

The report was presented to the County Council this week. It criticized the board, which hears appeals of decisions by the Montgomery County Planning Board, for not updating its procedures to cope with an increased workload. The report noted that while the board's workload more than has doubled, from 167 cases in 1979 to 379 in 1986, board members still write opinions for all cases.

As a result, 22 percent of special-exception and administrative appeals took six months or longer to decide in 1986, up from only 7 percent eight years ago. The board is supposed to decide a case within 30 days after an appeal is filed unless it passes a special resolution.

Karen Orlansky, the legislative oversight office's program evaluator, told the council that the five-member panel needs to look into delegating responsibility for writing opinions to the county and should hire a staff member to assist in their preparation.

"The board is operating much like it did 10 or 20 years ago," Orlansky said.

The report also accused the board of inadequately supervising its office staff. Currently, the board's office "operates with virtually no management supervision on a daily basis," the study said. It added that board members, who serve only one day a week, only occasionally visit the office, and even then they "are preoccupied with attending the hearings and executive" board sessions. An administrative assistant, Orlansky said, currently acts as office manager "by default."

Consequently, the legislative oversight staff found instances in which the board's staff has given out wrong information to the public or has refused to release public documents. In addition, the report said that instances of poor records management were found.

"Records kept by the {board of appeals} staff are not fully complete and up to date," the report said. Moreover, "there is inadequate control of case files. Many files are located in boxes scattered around the office, which contributes to a general lack of organization" there.

It also accused the board of inadequate financial management. Orlansky noted that one appeals board employe logged 679 hours of overtime in 1986, costing more than $13,000, without anyone first determining the need for the overtime.

The report recommended that the board hire an office manager and increase the use of computers and other automation to keep track of records.

Council members also said the board had failed to hold open meetings. The board is quasijudicial in nature because its decisions can only be appealed in court, and consequently it is exempt from the state's open-meeting laws.

Nonetheless, Council member Rose Crenca said that other zoning bodies currently hold public meetings. "The County Council makes zoning decisions in public, why can't the board of appeals?" she asked after the meeting.

Appeals board members did not contest the findings of the report. "It's quite true that the workload and the methods of working have changed, but the board's practices haven't," said Judith Heimann, who took over as board chairman a month ago. She said she already has asked the county to implement a new computer system to help keep track of cases. The only computer in the office now is used as a word processor, she said.

But another board member, Helen Strang, objected to the suggestion that authority for writing opinions be delegated to others. "We just ought to set reasonable time limits for writing decisions. Many times, members have just fiddled around and didn't take their responsibility very seriously," she said.