Transition panel wants to transfer Howard programs

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker received a transition report yesterday that he said would be a blueprint for cutting the size of government and restructuring the bureaucracy, moves that could result in transfers or layoffs.

"Government can be reduced, and we can consolidate activities," said Mr. Ecker. "There may be layoffs, or employees could be transferred to another area."


The executive added that he had not thoroughly reviewed the report, and he said it was too early to say what changes he might make in the government, which has 1,750 employees.

While Mr. Ecker stressed that the report was "not a witch hunt," several departments came in for criticism from the 108-member transition team.


The Department of Citizen Services received a particularly harsh review. "Delivery of services is in dire need of improvement," the report said.

The transition team recommended appointing a task force to find better ways to serve the public and consolidating programs for the young and the elderly that are now spread throughout the government.

It also suggested moving the Employment and Training Center, the Urban-Rural Transportation Alliance, the Office of Consumer Affairs and the Office of Human Rights from the Department of Citizen Services to other agencies.

Manus O'Donnell, head of citizen services, said he was reviewing the report and had no comment.

The transition team also said "political pressure" placed on the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits during the previous administration "interfered in the ordinary course of doing business."

Chip Lundy, a homebuilder on the transition team, said "the political pressure was not the kind of trying to help a particular builder but was a climate that resulted in delays in processing plans and permits."

David M. Hammerman, chief of the department since August 1989, said overtime pay for processing permits was stopped just before the county's limit on home-building permits was adopted in mid-September 1989. "It was viewed as an intentional slowdown, but that was a policy decision," he said. "We did not play favorites."

The transition team also noted that the Department of Planning and Zoning became the "lightning rod" for controversy over slow-growth initiatives and had "lost much credibility in the business community."


That was "compounded by the poor performance in the processing of development plans," the report said. "Efforts should be made to improve the department's image and credibility generally, and in the business community in particular."

The transition team also called for bringing the Office of Economic Development up to department-level status and drafting a strategic economic development plan "to change the image and direction of the business climate in Howard County."

It criticized the decision to move the economic development staff to a house in Ellicott City, saying it should be returned to the county office building or moved to downtown Columbia. Mr. Ecker said he wanted to move the office, but not until the fiscal picture improved.

In other reorganization moves, the transition team called for:

* Dismantling the new Department of General Services, which handles maintenance of county buildings, central communications and risk management.

* Moving the agricultural preservation program from the Department of Planning and Zoning to the Department of Public Works, the Department of Recreation and Parks or the Office of Economic Development.


* Moving the Office of Transportation Coordination, now under the county administrator, to the Department of Planning and Zoning.