A lawyer who claimed she was fired by the former Board of County Commissioners for political retribution after working for Frederick County for 21 years is now back on staff.
The county rehired Wendy Kearney on May 1 as a senior assistant county attorney as part of a settlement agreement in a wrongful termination case. Kearney had filed the complaint in court against the former board, which was led by Blaine Young. She previously worked for the county as an assistant and deputy county attorney from Sept. 6, 1989, to Feb. 25, 2011.
County Executive Jan Gardner said she gave legal staff direction on how to move forward with the settlement, and she is pleased to have Kearney back. Gardner defeated Young in the county executive’s race last year.
“I thought she did a good job when she was here,” said Gardner, who worked with Kearney in her previous terms as a commissioner. “And she will continue to do a good job.”
Kearney said she is glad to be back.
“I would like to say I’m grateful for the opportunity to return serving the citizens of Frederick County,” she said.
Under the April 28 settlement agreement, which The Frederick News-Post received Monday in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, Kearney was rehired at a salary of $129,375. Her salary in 2010, her last full year with the county, was $118,350.74.
In her original January 2014 claim filed in Frederick County Circuit Court, which later was moved to U.S. District Court, Kearney explained why she believes she was fired for political retribution. She had defended the county on land-use and development issues under the previous board, which was led by Gardner, in a role that was “directly adverse to the interests of the local developers and builders,” which had helped the Young board get elected, she said. Kearney asked for her job back, along with $75,000 and additional funds for interest and other damages.
The county stated in a court document that there was no retribution or retaliation. Kearney’s position was eliminated as a way to save money; it had been recommended as one of 38 positions to be eliminated in February 2011 under budget cuts, the document states.
The county redacted 10 of the 22 paragraphs in the settlement agreement. The redacted paragraphs dealt with subjects considered personnel matters, said Linda Thall, a senior assistant county attorney. Thall said she could not comment on those paragraphs, but in general, the county typically redacts information related to the employee’s terms and conditions of employment, such as benefits, along with waivers of claims.
Kearney did not receive any lump-sum payment, as no payment was mentioned, and Thall said that any part of an agreement involving a payment would not be redacted.
The county found money in the last fiscal year’s budget to rehire Kearney and pay her salary from May 1 to July 1, Gardner said. Her position was then funded in full in Gardner’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016, which started July 1.
Councilman Kirby Delauter, who was a commissioner when Kearney was fired, questions the timing of Kearney’s court filing and settlement.
In the first few months after she was fired, Kearney appealed the county’s decision twice, once in March 2011 and once in April 2011. Both times, the appeal was denied.
Kearney waited two years and nine months before filing her case in court. She filed her case in January 2014, two months after Gardner announced she was running for county executive.
Kearney declined to comment on the timing of the case. For the three years she didn’t work for the county, she worked at a private practice in Westminster, she said.
Councilman Billy Shreve, who was also a commissioner at the time Kearney was fired, said he wonders why the county reached a settlement with Kearney and not others who may have filed grievances against the board when all of the cutbacks happened.
“It seems odd that someone from the county attorney’s office would reach a settlement,” he said.
He said he also questions why the county suddenly needs another lawyer. With Kearney, there are five other county attorneys. Delauter said he is also not sure the county needed another lawyer.
Gardner said the legal staff has plenty to do.
Shreve said he believes Gardner brought Kearney on to work specifically for her office, but Gardner said that is not the case. Kearney reports to attorney John Mathias, she said.
Kearney said she is currently working on cases related to public safety, such as with the Division of Fire and Rescue Services, as well as other jobs that come along. She said she will eventually work on land-use issues again.
Kearney said she is glad to be back working in Frederick. She has lived in the county since 1986.
“This is home,” she said. “It’s a great place to be.”
Staff writer Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.