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Howard councilman seeks opinion on Ecker appointment


A Howard County councilman is asking for a legal opinion on whether the newly appointed personnel director, a close friend of the county executive's campaign manager, is qualified for the job.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said he was concerned about whether Joanne T. Nelson, a former vice president with Equitable Bank, met the qualifications spelled out in the county code.

"In my view, she may not be qualified," he said.

Ms. Nelson was recommended for the $65,000-a-year job by a close personal friend, Michael W. Davis, who was co-chairman of Mr. Ecker's campaign and remains one of his advisers. She is scheduled to start work today, but her status could hinge upon a legal opinion from County Solicitor Barbara Cook.

The code requires the personnel chief to have a "comprehensive knowledge of the principles and practices of public personnel management" and "six years of increasingly responsible experience in personnel management, including at least four years in a supervisory or administrative capacity."

From 1985 until earlier this year, Ms. Nelson was a vice president with Equitable, spending three years as head of a program aimed at improving customer service and two years in charge of trust and treasury operations. She also served as a merger liaison officer when Equitable was acquired by Maryland National Bank.

Before that, she worked five years with Key Financial Systems Inc. in Pinebrook, N.J., as a manager of installations and customer support services. Early in her career, she was a public school teacher for four years and held various part-time positions from 1968 to 1980.

She graduated in 1964 with a bachelor of science degree from Southern Connecticut State University.

Ms. Nelson said she thought she complied with the code's provisions. She said her "quality management job at Equitable encompassed everything but union negotiations," although she was not the bank's personnel director.

"I would have to say yes to all of it," said Ms. Nelson. "The only issue is whether it would apply to anyone who was not in public personnel management. I have been managing people in increasingly responsible roles for 11 years, and I have read every major [personnel] textbook in the last month."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker agreed.

"I think she meets the job's requirements by her background and experience. I did not think it was close," said Mr. Ecker, adding that he wanted Ms. Nelson to implement a "quality management" program to improve the delivery of county services.

He said that the personnel job was not advertised, except by "word of mouth," and that there was no screening committee, as there was for hiring a planning director and economic development director.

"I got 25 to 30 resumes and interviewed 10 persons," said Mr. Ecker.

He denied that the appointment was politically inspired.

"I do not want to penalize anyone for their associates or friends," he said. "I hired her for what she can bring to the job."

This is not the first time that an appointment by Mr. Ecker has come under fire.

His selection of John Mardall, a developer and member of his campaign finance committee, as county administrator drew strong criticism. Mr. Mardall soon withdrew, citing potential conflicts because his company had agreements pending with the county.

The executive then appointed Raquel Sanudo, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, to the $75,000-a-year job.

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