Pressure in Annapolis for Wilzack to quit rises

January 31, 1991|By John W. Freceand Eileen Canzian | John W. Freceand Eileen Canzian,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun M. Dion Thompson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislative pressure for state Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack to resign intensified yesterday as senators and delegates alike expressed embarrassment over her department's State Games scandal.

The House Appropriations Committee, acting quickly on a recommendation from one of its subcommittees, unanimously recommended that the governor dock a quarter of Ms. Wilzack's $102,000 salary as punishment.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, reiterated his call for her to step down, saying: "I think the Senate, by an overwhelming majority to the point of near unanimity, believes the only appropriate remedy is resignation."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been unequivocally supportive of Ms. Wilzack, with whom he has worked for years. The governor has a long record of being loyal to those who are loyal to him, and his aides say he is not about to abandon her.

But sources within the administration also acknowledged that key legislative leaders have privately advised Mr. Schaefer that they believe Ms. Wilzack should resign.

Richard Proctor, Ms. Wilzack's spokesman, said she was aware of the increasing legislative pressure, but said he did not know if she was considering resigning. "She's certainly aware that that is the position of certain legislators," he said.

Some lawmakers are talking about other ways to put pressure on Ms. Wilzack to resign, including reducing her salary in the budget or possibly withholding support for certain administration bills. One likely hostage would be Governor Schaefer's proposal to reorganize the departments of health and human services by creating a new department, several legislators suggested.

"I think senators feel the violations are so flagrant and so abusive that she should not be able to survive this," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore.

The Maryland State Games was an office of the health department charged with promoting amateur athletic events, ostensibly as a means of encouraging young people to stay off drugs. But legislative auditors have found that the program used its government funds to rent Ocean City condominiums, finance trips to Germany, hire friends and relatives of top health officials and pay other improper expenses.

Ms. Wilzack has said repeatedly that she didn't know about any of those abuses, and in hearings this week before House and Senate budget panels, legislators indicated that they believe she did not know. But as a manager, she should have known, several legislators said.

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