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Staff turnover begins as Kittleman administration takes over

County Executive Allan Kittleman delivers his inaugural speech to a crowd Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, at Glenelg High School in Glenelg.
County Executive Allan Kittleman delivers his inaugural speech to a crowd Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, at Glenelg High School in Glenelg. (Jon Sham, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

With the installation of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman earlier this week comes news of turnover among executive branch staff.

Wednesday evening, the county's new press secretary, Andy Barth, confirmed the departure of several department heads, among others.

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Communications director David Nitkin was let go on Tuesday, according to Barth. Public information office administrator Mark Miller will stay on in his role through Jan. 9 to assist with the new administration's transition. 

C. Vernon Gray, the county's administrator of the office of human rights, was also asked to leave. Gray remains chair of Howard's human trafficking task force.

Barth had earlier confirmed that Jessica Feldmark, chief of staff to former County Executive Ken Ulman, and deputy chief of staff Candace Dodson-Reed will no longer work in the county executive's offce. A voicemail recording left by Josh Feldmark, the former director of the county's Office of Environmental Sustainability and Jessica Feldmark's husband, indicated he had been let go as of Dec. 2. 

Nitkin, Miller, Dodson-Reed and the Feldmarks were all hired by Ulman. Gray has been a strong supporter of Ulman and Courtney Watson, Kittleman's opponent in the race for county executive.

Dodson-Reed, who also holds a leadership role in the county's Democratic party, wrote on her blog, IsThisThingOn?, that she was fired for political reasons.

"I get it. I know," she wrote. "If you're a Republican, I guess? you can't have the person who garnered 10,897 votes to win a seat on the Democratic Central Committee in your cabinet."

Republican councilmember Greg Fox said he wasn't surprised by the turnover.

"These were all people that [Ulman] brought on into political appointed positions," he said. "So far I don't think there's any surprises out there."

Kittleman, he added, "has somebody for [those roles] that he trusts... It's not out with the Democrats and in with the Republicans; it's just people he's comfortable with." Barth -- as Kittleman pointed out during the campaign -- was at one time a Democratic candidate for Congress.

Barth declined to comment on Kittleman's decision-making process involving staffing. He said each of the departing employees would receive a severance package.

Feldmark named council administrator

Jessica Feldmark -- who was let go to make room for Kittleman chief of staff Diane Wilson -- wasn't out of a job for long.

Just a few hours after Kittleman announced Wilson's appointment Tuesday, the County Council made its own announcement: Feldmark will stay in the county, this time as the council's administrator, charged with managing and maintaining the body's official business.

Feldmark replaces Sheila Tolliver, who returned as a temporary administrator in 2013 after retiring in 2009 from the same position. Her appointment was effective immediately on Dec. 2, the day it was announced. The council does not need the approval of the county executive to appoint an administrator.

Throughout Ulman's time as county executive, Feldmark attended council meetings as his liaison. Before Ulman was elected to the county's top post, she worked as his special assistant on the council.

Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty called Feldmark "an excellent fit" for the job.

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"Thoroughly familiar with the county government, Jessica also understands the role and needs of the council," Sigaty said. "She will allow us a seamless transition."

Nolan to leave 

County solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan announced last week that she would be leaving after seven years of providing legal advice and representation to the council and executive branch of Howard County government.

Nolan said she would stay on until July 1 of next year but would leave before that if a successor is found earlier.

"It has been a true honor to work with the finest staff of attorneys imaginable, and to play a role in helping Howard County – my home – grow and prosper,” Nolan said in a statement announcing her decision. “Innovative solutions are often complex, and our team has help make sure the executive and legislative branches’ vision on redevelopment, the environment and in other areas was able to be executed.”

Nolan worked as an assistant attorney general in Maryland before taking the solicitor position in Howard. During her time in the state attorney general's office, she defended the state in the case of Baltimore Sun v. Ehrlich, a challenge from the newspaper of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich's decision to ban staff from speaking to two journalists. Nolan and the state were successful at the district court level and again on appeal.

Nolan's replacement must be confirmed by the County Council.

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