A longtime county employee has been appointed to a new position aimed at improving communication between the county executive’s office and County Council.
Ken Hartman, who was director of the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Regional Services Center for more than 13 years, was unanimously appointed Tuesday as director of strategic partnerships.
His salary will be $171,648, according to a memo from County Executive Marc Elrich. Hartman began work in his new role on Tuesday.
County Council members, who voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of the appointment, were initially divided on whether the position was even needed, when Elrich requested it more than a year ago.
But County Council President Tom Hucker said Tuesday that the job description has changed since Elrich first proposed it.
“It’s evolved a little bit and I think all my colleagues are of the mind that we all need better communication from the executive branch. … I think it will help to know the executive branch’s position on legislation … more quickly than we have in the past,” Hucker said.
Hartman said in an interview that his new position will improve collaboration and communication between not only the executive’s office and the County Council, but also across county departments and offices.
According to an initial memo about the opening, the director of strategic partnerships is a legislative liaison for the county executive’s office. The director tracks and reviews all county executive policy positions on local bills and gives input and advice on such matters to the county executive and chief administrative officer, among several other duties.
Hartman said the pandemic has shown that many agencies can work better with each other and “across silos.” Information between those agencies and county divisions has flowed more freely, leading to better services for county residents, he added.
That included the Department of Recreation helping with food distribution and the county’s regional services centers helping get information out about the coronavirus pandemic, including vaccine distribution, Hartman said.
Before the council’s vote Tuesday, Hucker and Council Member Andrew Friedson commended Hartman for his leadership in the community and in county government.
Besides his time as the regional services director in Bethesda, he was a chief of staff to former Council Member Howard Denis, a legislative analyst for the entire council and a legislative senior aide to former Council Member Betty Ann Krahnke. He also held senior leadership roles for the city of Rockville.
“I think the logjam broke when they announced the candidate. … It’s not just having the position — it’s having the right person,” Hartman said about initial skepticism of the position. “If it’s someone they have confidence in and they support, that helps them imagine how the position will be successful. It’s harder when it’s a blank slate.”
Council Member Will Jawando agreed, noting his work in the community during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think that made us all feel good about the position, and him specifically in it,” Jawando said in an interview.
Adopting practices that worked during the pandemic long-term will be a main challenge in the coming months, he said.
“There’s the urge to return to the old normal, and I think fortunately … people have lived the last 15 months in the ‘COVID model’ of collaboration and improved communication,” Hartman said. “The challenge is going to be taking the lessons learned, [and] the models followed, and making those permanent.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org