Stung by news reports and a legislative audit questioning hi use of tax dollars at the Governor's Mansion, a feisty Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he'll ignore future renovation needs at his official residence.
"Am I going to fix anything else? Ha!," he proclaimed at a press briefing yesterday in Annapolis.
And when it comes to replacing diseased trees with healthy ones on the mansion lawn -- a practice that has drawn sharp criticism from many quarters -- well, the governor has an alternative to that, too.
"I will brace every tree," he said. "I will put up guy wires. I will hold that tree up by myself until I leave."
When he wasn't being facetious, Schaefer was stoutly defending the spending of $1.7 million in public funds inside and around the imposing brick structure since 1987. He argued that the building had suffered from neglect for years.
He also said criticism of how the mansion is run is affecting the health of Hilda Mae Snoops, his longtime companion and the official state hostess, who is ill and seldom ventures outside the building where she has taken up residence.
He said the mansion grounds were "a total disgrace" when he arrived in Annapolis as governor and much of the building needed extensive repairs.
Ticking off a litany of delapidations, Schaefer said the cupola leaked, a skylight was weakened so badly that it could have fallen on the head of a guest and the chimney was practically useless.
Calling it "an absolute disgrace" to have to be defensive about the renovations, Schaefer said he felt it was his responsibility as governor to improve the condition of the mansion for Maryland residents and future governors.
He said he wished his predecessor, Harry Hughes, had done the same for him.
"I'm only a tenant here," he said. "In three years I'll be gone. When I came here, I would've liked it to have been first class."
In a routine audit by the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, the Schaefer administration is questioned about the governor's use of taxpayers' money to fund private "social events," sometimes through payments of overtime to state workers.
Some of the events at the governor's mansion required staff to work extra hours, for which they were compensated. But the mansion fund, money allotted for maintenance and official affairs, was not reimbursed for the overtime costs, sources said.
For example, in September 1990 34 hours of overtime totaling $529 was paid to eight mansion employees for working at a private event, according to auditors.
Between April 1989 and January 1990, six private affairs, with guest attendance ranging from 64 to 165 people, were held in the mansion. Some of the affairs, including a baby shower and a birthday party, did not require overtime expenses, auditors said.
The auditors noted that there are no established procedures for reimbursement of overtime costs incurred for private social events.
The report also criticized the Schaefer administration for using the mansion fund to pay for expensive silver as well as gift certificates and lavish gifts for guests. It said certain purchases "appeared to be unrelated" to the stated purpose of the mansion fund.
Among the items singled out were $82,308 worth of gifts, including imprinted tote bags and money clips, that were given to guests at the mansion.
Schaefer brushed aside the audit report, describing it as "the same old stuff" that was raised in a similar report two years ago. "I won't pay much attention to it," he said.
But an upset Schaefer, who accused Fiscal Services of leaking the report to the press before he had time to review it, said the timing of the audit report and mansion-spending news stories was unfortunate.
He said the publicity has put additional strain on Snoops.
"She's not well," said Schaefer reluctantly. "Hasn't been well for some time."
The governor denied rumors that Snoops is near death.
"She's not deathly ill by any means," he said. "She's very sick."
He said Snoops' illness, the specifics of which are closely guarded secrets in Annapolis, is not helped by the "continual tabloid of the mansion saga."