Adele Wilzack, presenting herself as a registered nurse who knows little of accounting or managing, meekly took her medicine from the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for the abuses and mismanagement of the Maryland State Games.
"I'm not an operations person," said Wilzack, who has served as secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for eight years. "I'm a nurse. I've learned a lot. I've spent a very exhausting and troubling six weeks."
Wilzack's troubling time dates to mid-December, when revelations about the mismanagement of the Maryland State Games first surfaced. A legislative audit revealed that the program was riddled with financial improprieties. John M. Staubitz, deputy secretary for operations, was fired after Wilzack received the report, as was James E. Narron, the director for the games.
"I do not know what happened here. I do not know what went wrong," she said of the games at yesterday's hearing. "I don't know if I ever will."
Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, who chairs the committee, told Wilzack: "I am convinced you did not know about all these little things [but] you were used."
Wilzack lobbied to keep the Maryland Games program after the Senate committee recommended last year that it be dropped from the budget. The program was reinstated, Levitan pointed out, arguing that Wilzack then had an obligation to supervise it more closely.
Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, was less measured in his criticism. "You have taken a silk purse and made a sow's ear. You have taken a worthwhile program and absolutely destroyed it."
Lapides demanded to know why the department, during a selective hiring freeze, hired Michael Sabatini, son of Deputy Secretary Nelson Sabatini. "What was his area of expertise?"
"Michael Sabatini had a background in surfing," was the official explanation from Frank C. Zoll, director of personnel services for the department. That expertise apparently was considered useful for staging a festival in Ocean City.
Lapides apparently was not impressed with that answer. "This is a microcosm of everything that's wrong with state government," said the senator.
The committee did press Wilzack on why the games were not considered for a budget cut last fall, when her department -- the state's largest -- was charged with making millions in cuts.
"It's strange that this was sacred and protected," Levitan observed.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is still under an audit by the Department of Fiscal Services. The third and final part of the audit has not yet been completed.