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August 8, 2011

Connecting The Dots…

Michael Kurtianyk

It was with deep regret that I learned of the departure of John Kroll as director of Frederick County’s Finance Division. Rumors had been circulating for about a week before that someone was going to be let go, but to some of the people I spoke with, it wasn’t Mr. Kroll.


In a closed session held on July 28, the commissioners discussed the situation with Mr. Kroll. This being a private session, no one can speak as to what was actually said. Thus, there will always be plausible deniability from all parties. Yet, when Mr. Kroll submitted his resignation later that same day, everyone knew the reason. It had everything to do with the structural deficit, who said what, and what may have been said, both directly and indirectly.


Robert Reilly, a CPA who works in the Finance Division as an accounting team leader, spoke to the county commissioners on July 12 and explained that the structural deficit was not as dire as the commissioners had been making it out to be. A structural deficit occurs if the county posted a deficit in a year when there was no economic downturn. At the time, Mr. Reilly said that the structural deficit was based on budgeted numbers, not actual numbers. The budget and actual numbers are basically two sides of the same coin, but the commissioners have portrayed to the public that the flip of the coin always comes up tails, when in actuality it does not.


Then, on July 16 on Frederick’s Forum on WFMD 930AM, which I co-host with Pattee Brown, Mr. Reilly discussed the privatization process. I was not in the studio that day, due to an illness, but the show is archived for everyone to hear ( At the end of that show, Mr. Reilly quoted President Abraham Lincoln:


“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”


Remember when, during the weeks prior, the commissioners, especially Blaine Young, continually said that because of the structural deficit, they had to make deep cuts? Remember when all we heard was that a structural deficit means that “you spend more money than you take in?” We didn’t hear too much about that after Mr. Reilly spoke. Let us be clear on Mr. Reilly’s point: there is a structural deficit, but it is not as dire as the commissioners have made it out to be.


How does this relate to the departure of John Kroll? Mr. Reilly, as accounting team leader, works in the Division of Finance, whose director was Mr. Kroll. Should Mr. Kroll have reined in Mr. Reilly? Should Mr. Kroll have publicly refuted Mr. Reilly?


It depends on whom you speak to. The viewpoint is dependent upon your answer to this question: Was Mr. Reilly not telling the truth when he said that the fiscal picture is not as dire as the commissioners would have us believe?


It is my understanding from talking to people that Mr. Kroll was likely asked by the commissioners (directly or indirectly) to refute Mr. Reilly, fire Mr. Reilly, or do something in between. Mr. Kroll, as division director, serves at the pleasure of the commissioners. His position is an "at will" position, meaning that Mr. Kroll could have resigned or been fired at any time – no reason needed.


Was it, as Commissioner David Gray said, as quoted in The Frederick News-Post, that “[this situation] has retaliation written all over it?" If so, is it a stretch to speculate that since Mr. Kroll chose not to refute, fire, or do something in between to Mr. Reilly, then the commissioners retaliated?


Does this situation come down to the commissioners who, when they hear something they don’t want to, or disagree with, will make sure that dissension won’t be tolerated? Will they continue to create an atmosphere wherein county employees will be fearful of speaking out? In a work environment where morale is already low, this situation instills more fear – fear of retribution and fear of speaking to anyone about this.


Were there other mitigating factors to which we are not privy? Again, we may never know, since a closed session stays closed. One thing we do know for sure: absent other verifiable evidence, it’s easy to connect these dots.


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