Lessons for Glendening Jinxed post: Personnel secretary forced to resign

warning signs ignored.

October 17, 1995

NOW THAT Quentin R. Lawson has been forced out as state personnel secretary-designate, don't look for a replacement anytime soon. Given the misfortune Gov. Parris N. Glendening has had filling the job, there could be a long delay.

The governor's troubles started when he decided after his November election to fire state Personnel Secretary Joseph Adler, despite Mr. Adler's expressed desire to reform the system and his earlier efforts to assist the Glendening campaign. That dismissal has triggered nothing but misfortune for the governor.

His first personnel chief, Michael Knapp, never should have been hired. He was embroiled in a pension-enrichment controversy in Prince George's County that damaged the governor's public image. But Mr. Glendening said he needed his longtime associate to help overhaul the state's creaky personnel system.

When Mr. Knapp's wife was hired last summer by another state cabinet secretary who was conveniently rewarded with a pay raise, the governor cut all three loose. Then Mr. Glendening hired Mr. Lawson, who has no personnel experience, apparently because of his political contacts. Had the administration done a thorough check, the governor might not have made the appointment. Instead, Mr. Glendening again had to oust a cabinet official, this time after learning from a reporter that Mr. Lawson had been accused of sexual harassment and financial improprieties in his last post.

None of this makes the governor look good. His call for improved personnel practices will be delayed at least 15 months. The personnel department, under stress to downsize state government in the wake of federal budget cuts, is left with temporary leadership.

We hope Mr. Glendening learns from this episode. First, thorough background checks are essential. His staff should no longer simply accept the recommendation of one or two elected officials. Second, the governor ought to avoid controversial appointments, even if it means going outside his immediate circle of loyalists. And third, from now on he should stick with the qualified officials he inherited.

After three missteps, it's time for the governor to heed the warning signs.

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