Gag defended as good state management

July 15, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday defended his recent order requiring state employees to get permission from him before they talk to reporters and state legislators.

He lashed out at the news media for calling the 2-week-old policy a "gag order" and downplayed the seriousness of the problems his edict has caused.

"Any good manager would like to know what's happening," he said at an impromptu press conference outside the State House. "The only thing I said is, 'When you let out press announcements, if you would be so kind as to let me see them, and then I will release them.'

"For instance, if the building fell in," he said, glancing at the State House, "and the department would announce the building fell in, I would like to know it."

His new policy has delayed the release of even the most basic facts from state government agencies because the governor or his aides must clear both announcements and replies to queries.

The order also caused state health department officials to skip a meeting with legislators.

Ten health officials refused to address the House Environmental Matters Committee about alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs last Wednesday, even though their appearance had been scheduled well in advance.

Mr. Schaefer admitted that the incident "was very poorly handled" but blamed the health department for not notifying him sooner.

"There was a meeting scheduled. They sent me notice of the meeting after the meeting started. It was a little difficult for me to OK the meeting before it was started. There wasn't any gag. All I want to know is what they're going to say and what they're going to do, so I'm not surprised by reporters like you. . . ," he said.

A health department official said he agrees with the governor's story of improper notice.

Mr. Schaefer was in Toronto the day of the legislative meeting.

Some legislators said the policy has not caused them any problems, while a few said that it has made it a little harder for them to get information from state agencies.

Sources say the governor issued the edict in part because he believed members of his cabinet failed to collaborate for the most publicity possible for announcements.

Mr. Schaefer said that he merely wants to know what his administration is doing.

He also used the opportunity to bash the news media in general, and The Sun in particular, for failing to cover his administration in the way he would like.

"For instance -- and this is something else you won't print -- that paper sits around every day and censors the news," he said. "They decide who can send it out. When you send a story, if you're a reporter, when you send a story in, your story is then edited by them."

The governor also complained that letters to the editor should not be published with portions deleted.

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