Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Laura Neuman: Terminator

Retrospective analyses of the Iraq War have often noted that one of the biggest mistakes the U.S. made after deposing Saddam's government was removing all Ba'ath members from the heads of the police and domestic military forces, creating a vacuum of power, and inviting the "guys with guns" to start their own armies in the desert (the stories of finding empty armories shortly after taking over major urban centers are haunting).

I'm not comparing Laura Neuman's ascendancy to Anne Arundel County Executive to conquering Iraq, but she may find herself on the other side of a few empty armories come 2014.

As Andrea Siegel reports, shortly after taking office, Ms. Neuman began clearing house: "Neuman asked at-will employees in the executive suite and department chiefs on Friday to tender their resignations pending a review of budgets, services and employees."  She has already made three personnel moves, firing Anne Arundel's County Attorney John Hodgson, former Chief of Staff Erik Robey, and a former police officer working as a contractor by the name of William Hyers.

For the most part, the early dismissals make sense.  I don't know what Mr. Hodgson did to earn his pink slip, but a change at Chief of Staff should be expected and the ACLU noted Mr. Hyers as having improperly accessed police files of Leopold enemies. 

What concerns me, and would concern me if I were an Anne Arundel resident, are the 33 other resignations sitting somewhere in Ms. Neuman's desk.  While still in Howard County, Ms. Neuman was infamous for telling people, sometimes audiences, that she took a pay cut to become our Economic Development Authority chief.  I'm going to guess that the same is true for everyone who turned in a letter of resignation on Friday and spent the weekend reading about the job market drying up in the face of the sequester.

But even if we were to go cold-hearted for a second, remember the empty armories.  With all due respect, Laura Neuman probably had to read the last four State of the County Addresses on the Internet.  She doesn't know where the bodies are buried.  Heck, she is probably still learning where the bathrooms and water fountains are in the County Office Building.  I don't know if I would be so anxious to build resentment with the administrators of my government.  Many of these individuals are vets and have had a "Letter of Resignation" drafted on their desktop for years.  They probably laughed when they turned it in and left all their pictures and diplomas on the wall.  But they see their new Executive differently now.  "You think you can run this place without me?"

And let's not forget why Leopold is sweating out a possible jail sentence: he treated his staff like crap.  He made everyone afraid for their job.  Someone needs to get down to Annapolis and buy all these people some donuts and OJ.  They are having a tough year.

This is a matter of leadership.  While asking for 33 letters of resignation makes the papers, and screams "bold leadership" (when are we going to decide that "bold leadership" is the way to describe how Wile E. Coyote treats cliffs?), it is built on indiscriminate retribution.  From my perspective, it is horrible leadership, debasing the people you hope to delegate important tasks to, and demoralizing an already beat-up crowd of public servants.

We're told that more "personnel moves" are at hand, and that's Ms. Neuman's right, but I hope she makes it quick.  Every day that there are pending letters of resignation in her desk is a day current employees plot her replacement.

That's all for today.  I hope you all have fun at tonight's HoCo Blogs party.  Unfortunately, it does not look like I will be able to make it, but am sure it will be a blast.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.