Monday, June 01, 2009

Is Leggett Undermining Navarro on Day One?

County Executive Ike Leggett was quick to endorse Nancy Navarro in the District 4 special general election after twice opposing her in the 2008 and 2009 special primaries. But Leggett’s efforts to patch things up with Navarro and her supporters may well be hindered by his appointment of a prominent Navarro opponent to a critical position in her district. It seems the battle for District 4 will never end.

On Friday, the Gazette reported that Leggett appointed Joy Nurmi as the new Acting Director of the East County Regional Services Center. Nurmi is a former Chief of Staff to both Marilyn and Don Praisner. But she is far more than that.

Joy Nurmi once worked for Republican County Council Member Betty Ann Krahnke (R-1), who stepped down from her seat in 2000 and died in 2002. The Maryland Voter Activation Network lists Nurmi as a former “Republican Voter” and she contributed to the county’s GOP. She is now a registered Democrat.

Nurmi was never merely a staffer. She was also a political supporter of the Praisners. In 2006, Nurmi bought office supplies for Marilyn Praisner’s campaign.

In 2008, Nurmi was one of Don Praisner’s key supporters in his bid to succeed his wife despite her employment on the council staff. The Post reported that Nurmi and William Klein, a press aide to Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, conferred with Praisner campaign manager Eric Hensal during working hours. And Don Praisner’s original website, which we preserved, listed Nurmi’s home phone number and email address as his campaign contact.

Don Praisner’s Gazette profile also listed Nurmi’s home phone number as his campaign contact.

Now Joy Nurmi is the Acting Director of the East County Regional Services Center. That is a powerful position. The directors of the county’s five regional services centers are the County Executive’s liaisons to the community, including to the area citizens advisory boards, and coordinate service provision to residents. Some compare them to appointed “mayors” and they are especially important in areas without municipalities – like East County. Regional services directors have lots of direct contact with activists and can make Council Members look good or bad. Nurmi is known to be a friend of Alison Klumpp, Marilyn Praisner’s daughter, who endorsed Ben Kramer and once had ambitions to run for the District 4 seat. Joy Nurmi is hardly the top choice of any Navarro supporter for the East County job, which covers half of District 4.

The regional services directors were once merit positions, meaning that they were filled by competitive application and could only be dismissed for cause. But one of Leggett’s first initiatives upon winning election was to convert those jobs into political positions, meaning that they serve at the pleasure of the Executive. The County Council passed a bill in 2007 making the change.

Sec. 1A-102 of the County Code says this about non-merit positions:

(2) a. If the position of Chief Administrative Officer, head of a department or principal office, or any other position in the Executive Branch designated by law as a non-merit position, is vacant, the County Executive must appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

b. The County Executive should submit the appointment to the Council within 90 days after the vacancy occurs.

(3) a. Within 60 days, the Council should vote on confirmation of an appointment.

b. The affirmative votes of a majority of councilmembers in office are necessary to confirm an appointment.

(4) If the Council votes on an appointment, does not confirm it, and does not reconsider the vote, the County Executive must make a new appointment. The County Executive should make the new appointment within 90 days after the deadline for reconsidering the vote.

(5) If the Council does not act on confirmation of an appointment within 60 days, the Council may no longer vote on that appointment. Within 90 days after the end of the sixty-day period, the County Executive should either:

a. Resubmit the appointment; or

b. Submit a new appointment.
So if Joy Nurmi is to remain in her new position, the County Council must confirm her.

Back in 2007, no one imagined the succession of events that occurred in the District 4 seat. And if the Council had believed that the Executive would ever appoint a political opponent of a Council Member to serve as Regional Director in his or her district, they may very well not have approved his proposal to make them political jobs. But that is exactly what is about to happen to Nancy Navarro.

There is simply no way that Ike Leggett and his senior staff are unaware of the above facts. Joy Nurmi is a longtime supporter of Leggett’s and it makes sense that he would want to take care of her. But there are many other positions inside the government in which Nurmi could be placed without picking open the scab of the special elections. Whether it is intentional or not, Leggett’s appointment of Nurmi looks like an attempt to undermine Navarro’s tenure even before it starts. Will the County Council allow it? We’ll see.