Maryland Games Scandal

December 23, 1990

The scandal surrounding the Maryland State Games, which received some $1 million in state funds, raises troubling questions about the stewardship of health secretary Adele Wilzack. Charges from legislators of "blatant mismanagement," "rampant nepotism" and "abuse of funds" will be hard to rebut. This could become a big embarrassment for the Schaefer administration.

While it is commendable that Ms. Wilzack acted swiftly to straighten out this situation once problems surfaced, it does not explain why she strongly supported this program for two years when the objectives of the Maryland State Games -- holding an annual amateur competition and trying to lure the U.S. Olympic Festival to Maryland -- are far removed from her department's activities.

Ms. Wilzack staunchly defended this program before the General Assembly when a legislative analyst urged that the program be killed. She said the program promoted "fitness and health through sports" and would guide youths to "lifestyles without drugs." That was her way of explaining why money intended for drug-abuse programs was diverted into the Maryland State Games.

No wonder legislators feel misled. It now appears much of this money was misspent, that relatives of health officials and the governor's staff received jobs and that the program was immune to a department-wide hiring freeze. How much Ms. Wilzack knew remains a mystery. But she has fired a deputy secretary and the director of the Maryland State Games. The attorney general is investigating for possible criminal violations. Two audits are under way. The health secretary can expect a rough cross-examination when she goes before legislative committees early next year.

Spending funds earmarked for drug-abuse programs on a scheme to promote amateur athletics mocks the governor's war on drugs. It also makes it doubly difficult to explain to the public why valuable health programs have to be eliminated to close a gaping budget deficit when such a boondoggle was permitted to flourish for several years.

This episode underlines the need for stronger management of large departments and a closer examination of the why each program should exist. Especially in a period of severe fiscal restraint, non-essential or ineptly run programs must be pinpointed and jettisoned. The Maryland State Games scandal should not be repeated.

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