By Glynis Kazanjian
After serving as the Montgomery County Council’s legislative information officer for 11 years, Neil Greenberger began a new job Monday in the Public Information Office of the County Executive. But the County Council will continue to pay his $148,000 salary potentially throughout the 2018 fiscal year, which began July 1.
Greenberger is now a Democratic at-large candidate for the County Council he served. Shortly after announcing his candidacy in mid-June, he requested a job transfer to another county agency to allay concerns of potential conflict of interest with his job and his campaign.
Council Administrator Steve Farber recommended approving Greenberger’s transfer request, and said his office has not yet made a decision on how to fill the vacant position.
“The options are either with existing staff or with someone whom we would bring aboard now,” Farber said Friday. “We’re trying to work that out now.”
Joins six other PIOs
Greenberger is joining a staff of six public information officers at the county executive office, who collectively earned $708,800 in 2016, according to a county website. Public Information Office Director Patrick Lacefield alone made $194,330.
In his new role as a public information officer, Greenberger will absorb public relations duties related to the Wheaton redevelopment project that is currently being handled by other PIOs in the office, as well as work on projects for the Silver Spring Regional Service Center.
“A lot of the Wheaton work is just getting underway,” Lacefield said. “It’s being handled by a variety of people in the office. We have a lot of promotional work to do down there. We want to be sure that people know that the businesses are open and ready to receive customers.”
Lacefield said the projects for the regional service center “need to be a little more defined.” Greenberger will work with the center’s director, who in 2016 made $167,474.
The Silver Spring Regional Center is a hub for community residents, businesses and nonprofits in Silver Spring. Their mission is to strengthen communication between the community and various agencies of government tailored to support local community needs.
In approving the transfer request, Farber said he relied on existing personnel regulations to allow the transfer, but Greenberger said in a June mymcmedia.org article he didn’t think the transfer was permissible.
“There’s no provision in the County Charter to transfer an employee for political reasons. I don’t think this should be the first case,” Greenberger stated.
However, Farber said it was allowed. On June 23, he sent a memo to staff explaining the situation.
“Both State and County law provide that a County employee may participate in political campaigns, including running for elective office, with the restriction that the employee may not use County time, facilities, or equipment in connection with the campaign.
“Neil told me that he wants to avoid any conflicts that could arise between his duties as Legislative Information Officer and his campaign activities. To this end, he requested a voluntary transfer to an appropriate position elsewhere in County Government. The County Personnel Regulations authorize the Chief Administrative Officer to transfer an employee ‘to promote efficient operations in the County.’ The regulations also cite ‘a voluntary request from an employee to be transferred’ as an example of ‘valid reasons for a department director to make a transfer.’ ”
Greenberger is seeking one of the four at-large council seats which are voted on countywide. Also in that race is two-term At-Large County Councilmember Hans Riemer, D, as well as Democrats Brandy Brooks, Ukiah Busch, Ron Colbert, Bill Conway, Hoan Dang, Richard Gottfried, Marilyn Balcombe, Danielle Meitiv and Chris Wilhelm. Tim Willard is the Green Party candidate, and no Republicans have entered the race yet.
Several members of the all-Democrat council are term limited and running for county executive. They include At-Large Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal and District 1 Council President Roger Berliner. Republican Robin Ficker is also running.
“I was confident I could do what I was doing in my job well without it interfering, but in the end my staying at the Council would have created some difficult situations for people who I work with who are friends of mine,” Greenberger said. “None of it needed to fall on them.”