Two members of the governor's Cabinet came under fire from legislators yesterday in the wake of a news report that one had hired the other's wife.
Frank W. Stegman, secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, should not have hired the wife of personnel Secretary Michael J. Knapp without advertising the job, lawmakers said.
"The message has got to go forth that the old ways of doing business will not wash anymore and just cannot stand up to public scrutiny," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.
"This has a whole lot of overtones that are very disquieting," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican.
Even Gov. Parris N. Glendening was said to be unhappy.
"The governor was shocked to learn of this decision and was extremely disappointed in the poor judgment that was shown by the Cabinet secretaries," said his spokeswoman, Dianna D. Rosborough.
Ms. Rosborough said that Mr. Glendening, who is on vacation, did not know about the hiring beforehand.
Mr. Stegman hired Elizabeth Knapp last month as an employee relations manager, which pays about $36,000 a year, officials confirmed yesterday.
Mr. Stegman said he got the idea after her husband mentioned that she was concerned about being laid off from her job in Prince George's County government.
Mrs. Knapp worked for the state for about two weeks before resigning amid complaints about possible favoritism in her hiring, officials said. The resignation first was reported in the Washington Post.
She could not be reached for comment yesterday, and her husband did not return phone calls.
The decision to hire Mrs. Knapp is being criticized in part because the usual procedures were not followed. The job was supposed to be filled under a merit system that requires positions to be advertised for competition.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Stegman said he was hoping to reclassify the job to exempt it from the merit system. He hired Mrs. Knapp on a temporary basis pending the reclassification, a move allowed under state law.
Mr. Stegman and both Knapps worked in Prince George's County government when Mr. Glendening was county executive there. Mr. Stegman said that because of their experience, he VTC knew Mrs. Knapp would be good for the state position.
"I knew she had excellent, excellent credentials and she seemed like a perfect fit for the job," Mr. Stegman said. "I was told the process we used didn't run afoul of any nepotism rules or personnel rules."
He also said that before he hired Mrs. Knapp, he mentioned the idea to the governor's chief of staff, Major Riddick, who "took note of it."
Mr. Riddick could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Ms. Rosborough, the governor's spokeswoman, said the chief of staff did not make any comment on the hiring at the time because he did not know the details.
"There was no discussion of the reclassification, which is a very significant issue because by reclassifying the position, there is no selection process and there is no opportunity for an internal candidate or anyone else to be able to apply and be selected for the position," she said.
Mr. Stegman said he again discussed the issue with Mr. Riddick July 21 after hearing of employee complaints about the hiring.
"Both of us felt like there could be a perception problem with her appointment," Mr. Stegman recalled. "We both felt we should basically end the employment relationship. I think he felt strongly that this was something that needed to be taken care of, but I had sort of reached the same conclusion myself."
Ms. Rosborough said Mr. Riddick then told the governor about Mrs. Knapp's hiring and his discussion with Mr. Stegman. Meanwhile, Mr. Stegman discussed the concerns with Mrs. Knapp, who agreed to resign, officials said.
In Prince George's County, Mr. Knapp and Mr. Stegman were the chief architects of a lucrative county pension plan that created a furor last winter. The new governor lobbied and expended considerable political capital to secure Senate approval of both men's Cabinet nominations.
State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, said yesterday he was surprised that the officials did not display greater sensitivity to ethics, particularly in light of the pension controversy. The episode "should have raised all sorts of red flags," Mr. Van Hollen said.
"Why was the process short-circuited?" he said. "A lot of senators were convinced that the earlier incident was a display of poor judgment. Now, we have another indication of poor judgment."
Mr. Miller said he would have had no objection to Mrs. Knapp's hiring if she had taken an examination and competed for the job with other applicants.
"There are jobs that are available for political patronage, but there are jobs that are open and competitive to all state employees, and state employees work for years to compete for those jobs," he said.
One union leader called Mr. Stegman last month to express concerns about the hiring. Robert Stephens, interim executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said any decision Mrs. Knapp would have made about an employee grievance would have been appealed to her husband's agency. "It would put her and her husband in conflict," Mr. Stephens said.
By the time he heard those concerns, Mr. Stegman said, Mrs. Knapp already had resigned.