House panel seeks lowering of salary to punish Wilzack

January 30, 1991|By Eileen Canzian | Eileen Canzian,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- An angry House budget subcommittee voted unanimously yesterday to urge that state Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack's salary be cut as punishment for her department's mismanagement of the scandal-ridden Maryland State Games program.

Members admitted their action might have little effect as the final decision would be up to Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- who repeated his support for his embattled health secretary at a news conference earlier yesterday.

But the subcommittee felt it had to send a message, said Delegate Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore, the chairman.

"We have to express some outrage, and this was a vehicle for us to do it," he said.

The subcommittee recommended cutting Ms. Wilzack's $102,000-a-year salary by as much as 25 percent after grilling her for two hours about the State Games scandal. Auditors have found the program used state money to rent Ocean City condominiums, finance trips to Germany and pay for many other improper expenses.

To question after question yesterday, Ms. Wilzack of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene replied that she hadn't known what her State Games staff was doing until legislative auditors told her.

Ms. Wilzack said she didn't know that the office wasn't running "Midnight Basketball" leagues and other drug abuse prevention programs, though she had promised legislators that it was.

She said she didn't know that the State Games staff doubled in size last year despite a hiring freeze, nor that drug abuse money from her department was financing massive growth in the spending for the annual amateur athletics competition called the Maryland State Games.

"You've kind of cloaked yourself in this innocence. But you're a seasoned manager," Mr. Rawlings replied, before launching a lengthy interrogation.

"You're asking us to believe that almost half a million dollars in drug money could be transferred without your knowledge and that at the same time you had a hiring freeze, there was a doubling of the number of staff in this program and you didn't know about it?" he asked.

Ms. Wilzack repeated that she hadn't known.

Mr. Rawlings also read from a transcript of testimony by Ms. Wilzack to the committee in February, when she described in detail Midnight Basketball leagues she now admits did not exist.

"Didn't it ever occur to you during the fiscal year that you didn't see any of these programs operating?" Mr. Rawlings said.

Ms. Wilzack said she didn't think she could have been expected to know that the programs didn't exist when her staff never told her.

"If that activity was not being done, shouldn't that have been explained to me?" she asked. "Shouldn't someone have said, 'Adele, you're making a mistake, that's not being done'?"

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