Baltimore County's personnel board blasted County Executive Roger B. Hayden's handling of February's layoffs yesterday, calling the action "unduly secretive" and "arbitrary."
The statements were a rare, public display of criticism by the five-member board. Three of its five members were appointed by Mr. Hayden.
David D. Queen, chairman of the board and a Hayden appointee, said the executive's handling of the layoffs of 392 county workers was "unduly secretive, arbitrary, and caused confusion and poor morale."
Mr. Queen, who spoke for the board, also told six formerly high-ranking county workers there was no point in holding hearings for them because there was no way to restore people to jobs that no longer existed in the county budget.
Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, who is representing one of the county workers, said the board's words could help to overturn all of the layoffs. Mr. Holzer is a former county attorney.
The board's decision came after two hours of legal wrangling about whether the board had authority to hear the grievances in the six cases scheduled for the afternoon session. Hearings for five lower-ranking workers were held yesterday morning.
The board found that Mr. Hayden violated the county code by not giving county workers advance notice that they were to be laid off. The code specifically requires such notice. Hayden administration officials argued that the three to nine weeks of severance pay that the employees received served the same purpose.
The board labeled that argument bogus and "an improper attempt to circumvent the notice requirement."
James Beach, assistant county attorney, argued that the board could not hear the six division chief's cases because the former employees weren't technically "laid off." He said their job classifications were abolished. Michael P. Tanczyn, the lawyer for three former environmental supervisors, called Mr. Beach's argument "a distinction without a difference."
Mr. Queen, the board chairman, also was upset that county workers were never told if, in the county's eyes, they were laid off or if their jobs had been abolished. This made it impossible for them to know how to appeal their job loss.
"This may be something that would make Franz Kafka proud," Mr. Queen said, referring to the convoluted bureaucratic circumstances former county workers confronted. The former high-ranking county workers are: Catherine D. Drayton, a former day care coordinator; Thomas D. Robinson, former fleet administrator at the county's repair garage; and four former division chiefs from the Department of Environment, Janice B. Outen, Brooks H. Stafford, Robert J. Weber and Gerard A. Zitnik.
Mr. Holzer, Mrs. Outen's lawyer, said after yesterday's session that the board's strong opinions were "absolutely astounding. . . . If the whole process the county used was faulty, the whole action was faulty."
Mrs. Drayton said she thought "the board was great . . . I was relieved because I wasn't the only one confused."
Mr. Hayden has said February's budget cuts were needed to prevent tax increases and deal with two years of recession and state budget cuts.
He eliminated 566 positions, 392 of which were filled. Some county workers could "bump" to lower-paying jobs; some retired. At least 62 others have gotten new jobs.
Mr. Hayden also closed libraries, senior and health centers and reorganized departments.
County residents won't see the full impact of the wholesale reductions in public works, for example, for several years, until county roads and bridges start falling apart, said Mrs. Outen.