Taylor acknowledges he allowed trooper to drive aide to event

Speaker calls action `an inadvertent error,' pays state police for trip

July 23, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor acknowledged yesterday that he had a Maryland state trooper chauffeur his secretary to and from a candidates' forum in Allegany County last week - an action that raised hackles among some of his constituents.

The speaker called the use of the unmarked police car an error and he reimbursed the state police yesterday for the cost of the three-hour trip. But Taylor's Republican critics pounced on the action and demanded an investigation.

The flap arose after dozens of people attending a League of Women Voters candidates' forum in Flintstone on Thursday noticed that Taylor's secretary arrived at the event in an unmarked police car. A plainclothes trooper assigned to the executive protection unit accompanied the secretary, Rhonda Robinson.

The unit provides security for high-ranking state leaders.

Witnesses said the trooper, who has not been identified, carried campaign literature into the forum and then stood quietly while Robinson answered voters' questions.

"It raised questions from a lot of people there," said John N. Bambacus, the former Republican mayor of Frostburg and a three-term state senator. "I was a little surprised to see state troopers ferrying around secretaries."

Taylor is seeking his eighth term as a delegate and is expected to face Republican LeRoy Myers this fall.

William G. Somerville, counsel for the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, said there are no specific guidelines about what the troopers can be used for, but suggested it is inappropriate to lend out security details.

"If [elected officials] have been issued a state car with a trooper to drive it for security purposes, they have security whenever they need it," Somerville said. "But I would strongly advise against a person lending out their security, especially if the context is political. That is not what this is intended for."

Republican leaders called the trip an example of Democratic legislative leaders abusing their power.

"We need troopers on the road, out fighting crime and not acting as valets for the speaker's staff," said Paul D. Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "We will ask for a formal investigation into this. ... We just believe it is improper to use state troopers to drive a secretary to a political event."

When Somerville and some Democratic leaders agreed with the GOP, Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat, sought to limit the controversy.

Taylor initially told The Sun yesterday morning that the trip was "perfectly appropriate." But later in the day, Taylor wrote a letter to Col. David B. Mitchell, who heads the state police, calling the trip "an inadvertent error." The speaker also sent Mitchell $94 yesterday to reimburse the police for the trooper's time and mileage.

"When a last-minute conflict arose in my schedule that prohibited me from attending the event, I sent my staff person in my place, but neglected to alter the transportation arrangement," Taylor wrote.

William Donald Schaefer, who has been guarded by troopers for 12 years as governor and now comptroller, agreed it is "unethical" for officials to lend out their security details. But Schaefer, a close friend of Taylor, said mistakes do happen.

"There are occasions where you just don't think," Schaefer said. "Cas is a very ethical man, and I don't think he would ever do anything that was unethical."

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