State personnel chief retires after dispute over health insurance program

March 01, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

State Personnel Secretary Hilda E. Ford, who has worked for William Donald Schaefer for the past 17 years but lost his confidence over her management of the state employees' health insurance program, is retiring from government service.

In a resignation letter sent to the governor earlier this month, Ms. Ford, 70, cited health and personal reasons for her decision to leave state government effective today, said a spokeswoman for the governor.

She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Though she remained a member of Mr. Schaefer's Cabinet, Ms. Ford dropped out of sight after a controversy erupted in October involving the employees' insurance program. She did not appear before legislative committees investigating the program, failed to attend Cabinet meetings and left day-to-day operation of the department to her deputy, Joseph Adler.

Page W. Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, said no one has been named to replace Ms. Ford on a permanent or interim basis but that Mr. Adler would continue to manage the department until that is done.

"She offered her resignation and the governor accepted it with regret," Ms. Boinest said. "They had worked together since their city days."

The health insurance controversy exploded when employees and legislators learned that the Department of Personnel was pushing a program that would raise employees' insurance premiums by as much as 500 percent in some cases.

In response, Mr. Schaefer transferred responsibility for the program to his budget secretary and ultimately abolished the job of Assistant Personnel Secretary Catherine K. Austin, who was directly responsible for the program.

In December, Ms. Ford lashed out at Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr., accusing him of wildly exaggerating the size of the insurance program's deficit and suggesting it was part of a scheme by him to take control of the program. Mr.Schaefer, however, sided with Mr. Benton, and budget advisers to the legislature later confirmed the budget secretary's analysis of the program's financial problems.

Ms. Ford, a native of Brooklyn, held a variety of personnel positions in New York City and New York state before moving to Baltimore in March 1977 to begin working for Mr. Schaefer, who was then mayor. She ran the city's civil service system.

In 1987, when Mr. Schaefer became governor, she became his first Cabinet appointee, put in charge of the personnel issues involving more than 60,000 state workers.

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