Instability Continues at WorkSource Montgomery

By Adam Pagnucco.

WorkSource Montgomery (WSM) is a non-profit designated by the county government as its workforce development organization. WSM helps match job seekers with employers through its job centers and a range of other services designed to enhance the functioning of the county’s labor market. It is funded with a combination of federal, state, county and private money. But at a time of the greatest need for its services – a devastating recession – WSM is in a leadership crisis that the county council is blaming on County Executive Marc Elrich.

The council’s dissatisfaction with WSM peaked last year after a number of revelations suggested that the organization was struggling to fulfill its mission. The council responded by passing legislation enabling – but not mandating – the designation of a “public educational institution” as the county’s workforce development organization, thereby potentially revoking WSM’s portfolio. The public educational institution the council had in mind was Montgomery College, but to date, my sources tell me that the college has not taken over WSM’s work. WSM survived but its CEO announced her resignation in August 2019.

Eventually, WSM landed Leonard Howie as its interim CEO. Howie is a well-regarded former state labor secretary who also held senior positions in the U.S. Department of Labor. The council enthusiastically supported him and told the executive branch that they wanted Howie hired as the full-time CEO. Technically, the CEO reports to WSM’s board but informally the county executive has influence over the hiring process. Furthermore, WSM’s relationship with the executive branch is critical to its ability to operate. The council was optimistic that Howie could get WSM to a better place.

But something went wrong and Howie is leaving. Multiple sources report that Elrich wanted another candidate to be considered but that person withdrew. According to the council, when WSM offered the full-time job to Howie, he also withdrew. Now WSM is back to square one.

Three council members – Sidney Katz (the current council president), Craig Rice (the education and culture committee chair) and Hans Riemer (the planning and economic development chair) – wrote a blistering letter to Elrich accusing him of fumbling the ball. This quote from the letter conveys its tone:

As the County’s highest elected official, you are directly chartered with great responsibility for our workforce programming by the Federal and State government. To be here at this point, without a permanent CEO for Worksource Montgomery, with a skeletal staff and few if any programs in place during a period of unprecedented workforce change and high unemployment is causing tremendous distress for county residents, and is unacceptable.

Wherever the responsibility lies, the tumult within the agency is a huge problem for the county. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, MoCo’s unemployment rate was 6.8% in August – lower than the 9.0% reported in May but still double the county’s pre-COVID rates. Nearly 39,000 county residents are unemployed and seeking work. WSM’s functions are more badly needed than ever. In the wake of this incident, what highly qualified applicants will be interested in leading WSM now? That’s a question that has to weigh heavily on the county’s leaders.

The letter from Katz, Rice and Riemer to Elrich is reprinted below.

October 6, 2020

County Executive Marc Elrich
Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear County Executive Elrich:

As the Council President and Chairs of the Council Committees charged with overseeing workforce development policy in Montgomery County, we were disturbed to learn that Leonard Howie, former Maryland Secretary of Labor and presently the Interim CEO of WorkSource Montgomery (WSM), recently declined the organization’s offer to be named full-time CEO.

Since Mr. Howie was first announced as Interim CEO, Councilmembers have repeatedly and publicly expressed great confidence in his leadership. We have stated our belief that he has the ability to get our workforce programming back on track from the debilitating crisis of the past year and a half. Not only have Council members noted Mr. Howie’s capabilities, but when we were consulted in July about how we wanted to participate in a hiring process for the position, the Council communicated to your office and WSM’s chair our strong support for hiring Mr. Howie rather than reopening a hiring process.

Since learning about his planned departure, Councilmembers have heard conflicting information about the search process and reason for Mr. Howie’s decision. To discuss this issue and your process to ensure the County’s workforce development system is well-positioned for our residents as we seek to recover from COVID-19, a joint Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) and Education and Culture (E&C) committee session is tentatively scheduled for 1:30pm on Wednesday, October 28.

As the County’s highest elected official, you are directly chartered with great responsibility for our workforce programming by the Federal and State government. To be here at this point, without a permanent CEO for Worksource Montgomery, with a skeletal staff and few if any programs in place during a period of unprecedented workforce change and high unemployment is causing tremendous distress for county residents, and is unacceptable.

Below are questions that we ask you and your staff to answer in preparation for the upcoming meeting.

Please provide written responses before the meeting, so we can include them in the public record.

The Council has been actively and deeply involved in enhancing and improving our workforce development system. The second section of the memorandum details our more recent work for your reference.

Questions regarding WSM’s CEO search and future direction

● Can you provide a list of the actions your administration took to address the deficiencies in the County’s workforce development system from the announcement of Dr. Giles resignation as the WSM CEO to the announcement of Mr. Howie’s decision not to accept the position?

● What instructions did you or your staff provide to the Workforce Development Board regarding the CEO position for the organization?

● What were the reason(s) that Mr. Howie shared for his decision to not accept the board’s offer to be CEO of WSM?

● Does the Workforce Development Board have any additional vetted candidates for the CEO position?

● If there are no additional vetted candidates for the CEO position, what is the anticipated timeline and approach for the new CEO search?

● If a new CEO search must be conducted, what is your administration’s strategy and approach to ensure continuity in the organization’s mission and obligations?

● What is the status of the “combined” Workforce Development Board and the WorkSource Montgomery Board?

● What is your administration’s strategy and approach, generally, to the County’s workforce development system?

A recent history on the Council’s efforts to enhance the County’s workforce development system

The Council and its committees have conducted several discussions and worksessions on this topic since the new Council was elected in 2018. Below is an abbreviated history of the major items that were before the Council or its committees. This list does not include the numerous meetings between you and individual Councilmembers and our staff about this topic.

● The Council discussed the workforce development continuum on March 5, 2019. Many Councilmembers communicated their disappointment at the quality of the efforts of WSM since its inception in 2015. The Council indicated its support of reconstituting the Workforce Development Board as an immediate action by your administration to “right the ship.”

● To strengthen the Correctional Facility job center, the Council added resources to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) budget in the FY20 Operating Budget. Following the March 5, 2019 discussion and subsequent follow up by WSM, the Council was not satisfied with WSM’s efforts with the Correctional Facility’s job center and provided these critical resources to DOCR.

● The Council adopted legislation to expand its options to designate the County’s Workforce Development Entity in October 2019. The Council continued to be dismayed at the lack of urgency from your administration and WSM’s leadership to address the issues plaguing the County’s workforce development system. This legislation provided an option to change the designation of the workforce entity to a new organization should Council action be required.

● The joint committees (PHED and E&C) discussed an update with WSM and Mr. Fletcher, Assistant County Administrative Officer, on November 19, 2019. After nine months of engagement, it was unacceptable to learn from Mr. Fletcher that the executive branch lacked a detailed vision and that efforts to reconstitute the Workforce Development Board were still in process.

● The Council in various resolutions appointed your designated members to the Workforce Development Board in April and May 2020.

● The joint committees (PHED and E&C) received an update from WSM and Montgomery College about the County’s workforce development efforts, with particular focus on issues due to COVID-19 on June 18, 2020. The committees were thrilled with Mr. Howie’s efforts to orient the reconstituted Workforce Development Board and address the many of the previous deficiencies of WSM. The joint committees, and subsequently the Council, voiced their support for Mr. Howie to become the full-time CEO for the organization believing he would generate the workforce development product our County sorely needed.


Sidney Katz
Council President

Hans Riemer
Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee

Craig Rice
Education and Culture Committee