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Nine months ago, they compared him to the Ku Klux Klan. But yesterday black political leaders hailed County Executive Robert R. Neall as the Great Emancipator of Anne Arundel.

The bi-partisan Black Political Forum, a coalition of black community leaders and politicians, is scheduled later this week to make public a glowing report praising Neall for advances in the promotion and hiring of minorities. Forum leaders privately briefed Neall on the report's contents during a 1 1/2-hour meeting yesterday.

"We're going to give the county administration an 'A' for the changes he's made since the first report," said forum chairman Lewis Bracy.

Bracy referred to a highly critical report of Neall's first 100 days in office, released last May, accusing the executive of excluding blacks from leadership positions and continuing a long-standing tradition of "virtually an all-white, male-dominated power structure."

At that point, Neall had not appointed a minority to a high-levelpost, a fact the forum condemned in its report as "Annpartheid." Shortly after its release, one black leader, former state Delegate Kenneth L. Webster, said talking to Neall about minority hiring was "like going to the KKK to draft a civil rights bill."

Bracy said yesterday that the forum may have judged Neall too harshly, too soon. "We felt the report should be done to show it would not be business as usual with us on the scene. But 100 days is hardly enough time for anyoneto do a lot," he said.

The new report concludes that Neall has shown a serious commitment to a government that includes qualified minorities at all levels, Bracy said.

The key factor in Neall's new high rating is his appointment of Donald Tynes Sr. as county personnel director. An African-American who served formerly as the University of Maryland's director of human resources, affirmative action and equal employment opportunity, Tynes was chosen over 170 other applicants.

"We like the fact that (Neall) went out and beat the bushes," Bracy said. "People always say they can't find a qualified (minority) inAnne Arundel, and he proved by selecting Tynes that he was going to go against that."

The forum -- which does not support quotas -- gives Tynes good marks for getting out into the community and seeking qualified minorities.

"He's not a pacifist figure," Bracy said. "He's not a Tom."

Of 3,100 county employees, almost 15 percent are minorities, about 1 percent higher than last year.

The forum creditsNeall with hiring eight minority men and women to help staff the newCounty Detention Center expansion. Neall said yesterday he expects more minority hires whenever the county fills 50 vacancies in the police department.

At least two qualified minority applicants are being considered for the vacant county drug czar position, and the administration is seeking qualified minority candidates to replace outgoingDirector of Parks and Recreation Joseph McCann, Neall said.

Though Bracy believes the critical 100-day report was "crucial" in influencing Neall to become more sensitive to minorities, Neall said he has not changed his strategy.

"I've employed the same technique from the first day I took office. I seek out and interview minority candidates, and if I keep doing this on a regular basis I'm going to get my fair share of minority hires," he said.

Neall also found favor with the forum on several other minority issues, Bracy said. Black leaders liked the fact that he did not devastate social services programs during the budget crisis; that he is willing to consider investing more county money in minority-owned banks; and that he is receptive to the forum's suggestion that a sports and tutorial program be created at the Pumphrey Community Center.

The forum's only criticism, Bracy said, is that only 17 of 130 positions filled during a semi-freeze on hiring have gone to minorities.

Neall said these figures reflect "abnormal circumstances," namely, the low turnover of positions during a recession. The positions that were filled often were specialty jobs with a narrow field of qualified applicants, he said.

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