What happened in Prince George's County in the final years of Parris N. Glendening's reign as county executive was an outrage. It reflects badly on his judgment and reputation for prudent management. But this week, there's a legislative hearing the governor should use to explain his moves on pension and termination benefits that would have provided a windfall for him and some aides.
The man picked by the governor as state personnel secretary, Michael Knapp, goes before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee on Friday. So does the new labor secretary, Frank Stegman. They were architects of the pension boondoggle in P.G.: Mr. Knapp served as county personnel director and Mr. Stegman negotiated county labor contracts containing no-layoff clauses.
But it's Mr. Glendening who is the central figure. When did he learn of this special -- and lucrative -- pension program for "involuntarily separated" longtime county workers? Did he or his powerful chief of staff, Major F. Riddick, play a role in sweetening and expanding the program so that they, too, would benefit? Why did he make his aides eligible for these six-figure taxpayer payments last fall?
Only Mr. Glendening can answer those questions. It is not unheard of for a governor to testify at a hearing. It would help clear the air.
As it stands, the Knapp and Stegman confirmations are in doubt and many top legislators are fearful that what happened to Prince George's could now happen to state government.
Pity Wayne K. Curry, the new Prince George's executive. He faces a $108 million deficit, due in part to Mr. Glendening's distraction during last year's gubernatorial campaign. Those no-layoff labor contracts put Mr. Curry in a double bind. He has to fire hundreds of workers; yet he is precluded from doing so quickly. Moreover, that special benefits package for terminated veteran managers means Mr. Curry can't fire any of those employees without running up sky-high costs.
Nowhere else in Maryland were public employees treated so well as in Prince George's under Mr. Glendening. And nowhere in Maryland are citizens going to pay so heavily.
This episode raises alarms about Mr. Glendening's stated intention to give collective bargaining rights to state workers and to revamp labor relations (under Mr. Stegman) and personnel and benefits policies (under Mr. Knapp). It also casts a giant shadow over the governor and his chief of staff.
Since it is his integrity at stake, Mr. Glendening ought to appear before the Senate committee to explain. It should not be a rubber-stamp hearing, either. Senators, both Republicans and skeptical Democrats, have an obligation to ask pointed -- even embarrassing -- questions. This controversy isn't going away. Not until the governor convinces us he learned some painful lessons that will help him avoid those pitfalls in Annapolis.