Governor ousts 2 controversial Cabinet officers

September 02, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, in an act of political damage control, has forced the resignations of two Cabinet secretaries who had become a constant embarrassment to his young administration.

Mr. Glendening said yesterday that Michael J. Knapp, personnel secretary, and Frank W. Stegman, labor, licensing and regulation secretary, had lost their effectiveness and become a distraction. He said he asked for and received their resignations Thursday.

"This is obviously a very, very difficult decision for me," Mr. Glendening said. "I have known each of these individuals for 20 or more years. Long before I was [Prince George's] County executive, we were friends.

"I reluctantly -- but very clearly -- came to the decision that change [seeking the resignations] had to be made, that some of the key changes we were making fell under their portfolios, and their effectiveness was diminished considerably," the governor said. "In addition to which, I have the larger, broader goals for the entire state. And to the extent this would hinder the implementation of those goals, it was a problem."

He said he plans to name replacements next week for the two men, who will leave state employment Sept. 15. Neither Mr. Knapp nor Mr. Stegman returned calls to their offices.

The two had been expected to be the governor's point men on thorny policy changes involving the state personnel system, collective bargaining rights for state employees, and regulatory reform. But they never got a chance.

Almost immediately after Mr. Glendening's inauguration, Mr. Knapp and Mr. Stegman were cast as the central players in a Prince George's County pension scandal that dominated the new governor's first few months in office. The apparent self-dealing tarred the new administration as one where public officials could enrich themselves at taxpayer expense and get away with it.

In late February, the two men narrowly survived confirmation votes by the Senate after a bruising behind-the-scenes political battle. But they found themselves back in the news this summer with new self-inflicted wounds.

First came word that Mr. Stegman had hired Mr. Knapp's wife to fill a $35,000-a-year civil service job in his department without advertising that the job was open or considering others who might have applied. Elizabeth Knapp quit two weeks later after state employees complained.

The incident, however, became a source of renewed embarrassment for Mr. Glendening, who professed to have known nothing about the hiring in advance.

Salary increase

Then came the revelation that Mr. Knapp had put in paperwork to give Mr. Stegman a $10,000 raise from his $100,542 salary.

The governor put the request on hold until next year's legislative session. But he and other administration officials publicly justified it because Mr. Stegman had been given additional responsibility for 1,200 workers transferred during a departmental reorganization. Privately, some administration officials admitted the timing was all wrong.

An editorial in The Sun critical of the politically inept moves labeled the two Cabinet secretaries "Dumb and Dumber," a tag that stuck and which many state and county officials began using privately.

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, said the two men began to represent the reasons for the fundamental distrust the public has for government and reflected poorly on all elected officials, Democrat and Republican alike.

Governor applauded

Both House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Allegany County, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Prince George's, agreed that the two secretaries had lost their credibility and become ineffective. Each applauded the governor's action.

"I admire the governor for accepting their resignations," Mr. Taylor said. "I know it is tough to do when you're dealing with longtime friends. But I clearly believe all parties concerned are doing the right thing."

Mr. Miller said Mr. Glendening was probably frustrated that he expended so much political capital to get the two confirmed last winter only to cut them adrift now. But, he said, "When those mistakes occurred [this summer], I think the governor recognized that it was better to cut his losses."

Discussions with aides

The governor said he had been seriously considering whether to ask for the resignations since the issue involving Mr. Stegman's proposed pay raise became public. He said he had had a number of discussions with aides as well as with associates outside the administration about what he should do, but declined to identify whom he spoke with or what was said.

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