Administrator Outlines How Layoffs Came To Be

SNOW HILL – Four inspectors, three license permit clerks, one planner, and three clerical staff lost their jobs Friday after the Worcester County Commissioners voted in closed session last week to consolidate three county departments through layoffs despite having already balanced the budget.

“I was not worried because I knew we were productive employees. I didn’t think the county, when the budget was balanced, would eliminate productive employees,” said one of the terminated employees, who did not wish to be identified. She said she had learned of the layoffs in the Dispatch Friday morning.

The employee said she was shocked to be laid off, especially since the County Commissioners said furloughs would be imposed before lay-offs. A furlough day for the entire county workforce would save $84,000.

The lay-offs and consolidation should save the county over $500,000, an amount that could also have been saved through six furlough days.

A budget document outlining several options to reduce spending, from reducing debt to layoffs to limiting take-home vehicles, includes this note: “Many county employees have expressed that they would gladly accept furloughs rather than see their fellow employees lose their job.”

Furloughs were mentioned by staff but not discussed by the commissioners at either late May budget session, either as a way to balance the budget or as a way to create a cushion for the next fiscal year.

Downsizing and the attendant layoffs, said Commissioners Bud Church and Bobby Cowger during the budget session last week, would provide a cushion for the continued hard economic times expected in fiscal year 2011.

When asked, supervisors could not explain the reasoning behind the layoffs, the employee said, since it was neither performance nor budget based.

“It also makes a statement about conservation being a low priority to the people who voted for the consolidation and lay-offs,” the employee said.

When asked whether she would consider taking her job back if the commissioners decided to rehire laid-off employees, this particular employee said it was doubtful.

Each terminated employee will receive a month of severance pay.

The commissioners pushing for the changes last week said that the housing downtown reduced the number of employees needed in the Development Review and Permitting Department as well as the Environmental Matters Department. There was no extensive review of the downsizing concept conducted in public, however.

That discussion took place in a closed session.

“The goal was to reduce the staff. It’s impractical to keep the three divisions separate,” said county administrator Gerry Mason. “It made more sense to downsize and put them all together.”

The GIS (geographic information systems) staff have been moved in with staff doing similar work in the natural resources section of Development Review and Permitting, for example, Mason said.

The change gets rid of the redundancy of staff support for three different departments, according to Mason.

“We hope to be more efficient,” said Mason.

The county has also created a customer service division to handle problems with permits and the like.

“They’ve just got one place to go. They don’t have to track down who they’re dealing with,” said Mason.

Despite popular rumor, none of the three departments were gutted, Mason said.     

Bob Mitchell, previously director of Environmental Programs, now works under the Development Review and Permitting Department Director Ed Tudor, as environmental programs administrator. Former Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman is now the planning coordinator under Tudor.

“Sandy Coyman’s primary function now is liaison with the state, and the Maryland Department of Planning and the Maryland Department of the Environment, and he’s involved with the coastal bays. None of that is changing,” said Mason.

Mason denied that certain employees were targeted for termination. Rumors that certain commissioners wanted to make it easier for developers by getting rid of certain people in the permitting and planning departments are not true, according to Mason.

Only George Bradley, county human resources director, knew whose job was in jeopardy when decisions were being made, Mason said, adding that he did not know himself who would lose their job until Friday, when layoffs were communicated to the affected employees.