County government hallways are strewn with eggshells these days, andmost everyone is stepping lightly except the County Commissioners.
The government reorganization plan secretly hatched by the commissioners and sprung a month ago on county employees and the public remains mysterious, greeted mostly by shrugs and a resignation to "wait-and-see" what unfolds.
While county employees are familiar with the shifting of agenciesdiagrammed by the commissioners and made public May 10, many are uncertain of the rationale behind the changes and how they will alter their jobs. Mum has been the word around county offices, with most employees choosing not to express personal opinions.
"There was no advance notice. No explanation. No feedback. I don't believe we understand why," said one mid-level county employee. "We're still walking around in a fog."
Predictably, little has been heard from Carroll residents, who generally ignore bureaucracy until it delves into their wallets or otherwise meddles in their daily existence. But at least some -- including a handful of environmental activists -- have taken notice of the imminent changes and questioned the logic.
By July 1, the commissioners are expected to put the finishing touches on an overhaul of government, a plan subject to change over the next six months.
It is the first government restructuring in the last 20 years -- since the first department was created -- that has not involved expanding the number of agencies and narrowing their focus.
Rather, this restructuring creates fewer, larger departments with more wide-ranging responsibilities.
County department directors were to have submitted plans by Friday showing a personnel structure for their agencies, including three new ones -- General Services, Citizens Servicesand Administrative Services.
"There's a lot of uncertainty, a lotof things in limbo," said Beverly B. Billingslea, assistant directorof the Department of Human Resources and Personnel Services, the agency assigned to keep employees informed.
The shake-up, announced five months after the new Board of Commissioners took office, is intended to make government more efficient, the commissioners say. It is not intended to provide new programs or to result in substantial savings or employee reductions, they say.
The vast majority of residents won't notice many changes "because it's internal workings," Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said.
The dismantling of the 1-year-old Department of Natural Resource Protection -- and the demotion of its director, James E. Slater Jr., who has national and international experience as an environmental consultant -- has sparked the most concern among residents and befuddled some county workers.
Under the plan, functions handled by DNRP will be parceled out to four separate agencies, including a newly created Office of Environmental Services, where Slater will oversee technical aspects and adherence to environmental regulations.
Developers, several county employees and even Gouge have questioned splitting up development review processes into separate departments.
The commissioners have reduced the number of departments from 12 to eight, created an umbrella agency for social services, shifted charges between departments, increased responsibility and authority of some government managers and lessened the role of others.
The creation of Citizens Services, which will coordinate government and non-profit social programs, has drawn praise from community leaders.
The commissioners disagree on various aspects of the plan,calling it a compromise proposal. It will be reviewed after three months and again after six months before formal adoption.
Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he doesn't expect to make many changes to the original plan; Commissioners Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy Jr. were not so content. Lippy said that significant changes were probableby July 1.
Those familiar with Carroll government and current employees have offered differing views about the purpose of the reorganization and what triggered it.
Several commissioners who reigned inthe 1980s said it is natural for a new board to reshape government in its own image, provided the change serves a specific purpose.
Some government leaders have downplayed the significance of the reorganization and discounted suggestions of ulterior motives.
"I don't see any hidden conspiracy," said James C. Threatte, director of the Department of Economic and Community Development. "It's healthy. It's amistake to assume everything's working right."
The mid-level county employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said some of the changes appear to be motivated by a "power grab," mentioning the new Department of General Services, which has the most diverse and numerous functions under one roof.
"Sometimes there's not a lot of cooperation between departments," the official said. "It's a power struggle, an ego thing, to have as many bodies working for you as you can."
The official also said that "portions of the reorganization are so illogical that it must be intentional," speculating that some offices could be reassigned later if they don't function up to standards or if managers leave.
The employee, who has had some direct contact with thecommissioners, said he perceives that Dell is the driving force behind the changes.
"Elmer (Lippy) hasn't had much to say; Julia (Gouge) hasn't had much to say, even with her four years' experience," he said. "They're taking a back seat to him. So early in the administration, one person is surfacing."
Gouge said Dell was "particularly interested" in pursuing changes.
The Department of Administrative Services was created to give more responsibility to Director Robert A."Max" Bair, executive assistant to the board, and to allow the commissioners more direct contact with offices under that agency, Dell said. Now, Bair directly oversees only the Emergency Operations Center.
Some of the functions under Administrative Services are Environmental Services, Public Information, Land Acquisition and the zoning appeals and liquor boards.
Former Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith said it appears the board is "involved too much in day-to-day administrating and not in developing the big picture and policy-making."
"Itried to breed responsibility and independence (in government managers), to make things happen without day-to-day detailed direction," hesaid. "This board is trying to rein them in."
Dell said the bureaucratic changes had little to do with the personalities and abilitiesof individuals running the agencies.
Gouge said those factors were considered.
"Our original goal was leadership and efficiency," she said. "We looked at bureaus and departments first without looking at people, but it's difficult to totally divorce yourself from the people involved. We had to look at personalities and abilities -- who can work together, who can carry a full load."
Griffith said the restructuring appears "more a question of personalities and lack of confidence in individuals than for efficiency."
Reducing the number of departments will save the commissioners time in staff meetings, Dell said.
"I suspect what the current board is finding is it's getting a little unwieldy, having to deal with too many people to make decisions," said George Grier, a former county administrator and 25-yearemployee. "It's a good reaction."
The restructuring is being undertaken with no study of the costs involved or rearrangement of physical space -- already at a premium for county government workers.
"It won't be part of our decision," Dell said. "We're pretty well committed to make changes. The way we're handling it, there won't be prohibitive costs this year."