Several dozen supporters stood and applauded after the council backed County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s nomination of Walker, who will be the county’s second-in-command.

“I think you’re the right person for this. And we’re going to rely on your skill set,” County Council Chairman Izzy Patoka told Walker after the vote. “Because it’s a difficult budget. And we’re all going to have to work together to navigate it.”

The appointment process is typically routine, but this one drew more attention than usual after two former employees spoke out against Walker’s appointment, a flurry of public information act requests, and accusations of “cronyism and favoritism” in a county that has promised increased transparency but hasn’t always delivered.

Department of Public Works and Transportation since November 2020. She served in an acting capacity until voters changed the law, at the county’s request, so a non-engineer could serve as director.

The public works department, with a $500 million operating budget and 1,000 employees, is responsible for roads, solid waste, recycling, and water infrastructure, which it coordinates with Baltimore City. Prior to working for the county, Walker served for nearly two decades with the state and Prince George’s County in senior management positions involving transportation, logistics and procurement.

Walker will be only the second Black woman in the county’s second-highest position, following Stacy Rodgers, who is retiring.

Olszewski is running for Congress this year, and should he win, the county administrative officer could fill in until a new county executive is elected.

The position can pay up to $325,000, according to a new pay scale that the county adapted for various top jobs. Baltimore County is the state’s third-most-populous county, after Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in suburban Washington, D.C.

In his appointment announcement, Olszewski praised Walker as “a forward-thinking leader and a vital member of our administration whose innovative efforts have consistently improved County operations — and delivered for those we serve.”

Two former employees disagreed, saying that many senior employees left under Walker’s tenure and that she was not qualified to manage the department.

Walker said some of those departed employees, most of whom were white, did not want to take orders from a Black woman.

“I walked into a situation at DPWT where people didn’t want to work for me,” she said. “Not because I wasn’t capable, but frankly because I didn’t look like a lot of other people,” she said.

Whitney Dudley, a former DPWT employee, testified at an April 9 County Council meeting that the situation was the opposite.

“It’s stunning to me that Miss Walker would state that the reason why people might disagree with her is because she doesn’t look like them. And this is something nobody is supposed to talk about. But it seemed Walker had a motivation to eliminate people who didn’t necessarily look like her,” Dudley said, adding that she felt it was “insulting” to use race as a “talking point” in the discussion.

Walker, however, told the council she never fired anyone. And Dudley never worked for her directly; she left on her own, Walker said.

Dudley has also been leading the charge against Lutherville Station, a transit-oriented, mixed-use development that advocates say would attract a diverse population to what is now an under-used office park. She has bristled at the suggestion that she and other opponents of affordable housing there are against diversity.

“To insinuate race has any bearing on the resistance to this project is misinformed and untrue,” she wrote in The Baltimore Sun, saying her opposition is more about traffic and adequate space in schools.

Michael Beichler, who testified after Dudley last weel, had more direct complaints. Beichler, the former chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, had criticized a deal to allow an Olszewski donor to privately haul trash; Walker allowed the deal to proceed. Beichler retired but later re-entered his old office building to get some photocopies. When Walker learned of it, she asked the Baltimore County police to investigate — something she says she felt she was required to do.

The investigation didn’t turn up anything, nor did the complaints that Beichler filed with the Inspector General’s Office or the Public Information Act requests he filed to determine how much trash different counties hauled to the Baltimore County landfill. Still, Beichler brought the drama to the hearing, with impassioned testimony about what he called Walker’s lack of qualifications. Prior to that, he wrote a letter detailing what he had endured, which was shared with councilmen, activists, and the press.

“I never dreamed I would be investigated by the police for doing my job according to Baltimore County policy and procedure,” the letter states. “This isn’t Russia or China or North Korea. Maybe I would have issues with the Mafia, or a hauler whose throwers are gang members, BUT NEVER would I imagine that the politicians and the acting director of public works would sic the police department on me.”

Several councilmen at the April 9 meeting expressed admiration for Walker.

Mike Ertel, a Democrat who represents Towson, praised Walker for the seamless manner in which she ran her department. Patoka, also a Democrat, reminisced about the days when they both worked for the transportation department, and Walker was tasked with trying to keep the wheels from falling off buses. Wade Kach, a Republican representing the northern part of the county, joked with her that she would only have a week to address his long list of road repairs because of an all-but-certain confirmation.

The question whether the head of a public works department needs to be an engineer is one that departments nationwide are grappling with, as the job requires managerial and procurement skills. Engineering graduates are also seeking higher-paying positions in the private sector. Some departments have opted to change the requirement, as Baltimore County did; others are offering on-the-job training for engineers who may not have the personnel and managerial skills. Walker has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business from Morgan State University; she says many of her counterparts in transportation and administration have similar backgrounds.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said Beichler’s testimony concerned him a little bit, mostly because he felt that Beichler had been a solid county employee. But, he said, “the fact of the matter is, the inspector general has this information, and has never issued a report and we have not heard any damning evidence.”

The inspector general did issue a report criticizing Walker and Rogers for approving a $70,000 repaving project for a commercial alley at the request of Councilman Julian Jones. The businessman who requested the repaving was a campaign contributor, and the alley in question was outside his district, in downtown Towson. Both Rogers and Walker said the decision was at Walker’s discretion, and she did nothing wrong.

Marks added: “My disagreements with D’Andrea have been solely about policy issues. Good people can disagree on policy. But I have yet to see anything proven that backs up some of the allegations that were made.”

Walker agreed with Marks that Beichler was a solid employee, and she said she was shocked when a reporter called her to share his complaints before they ran in the newspaper.

“I’ve not done anything to that employee for that employee to say the things they’re saying about me, that my children have to read about me,” she said. “And I’m hurt, because I’d done nothing but treat them with respect the whole time I was there.”