MVA chief reprieved, but job future unsure

Lawmakers protest Ehrlich plan to replace Ferro with fund-raiser

January 15, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Anne S. Ferro woke up yesterday thinking she had been fired as head of the state Motor Vehicle Administration. By lunch, she thought a flurry of calls from legislators had saved her job - yet her ultimate status remained up in the air last night, offering a rare glimpse into the confusion and glitches that can haunt a gubernatorial transition.

Despite criticism from many lawmakers, sources close to Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. say he has offered Ferro's MVA position to Robb Banks, an auto dealership general manager and Republican fund-raiser.

Banks, 33, who lives in Carroll County and works at Russel BMW in Catonsville, was on Ehrlich's finance committee. In an interview with The Sun in November, Banks said he raised more than $50,000 for Ehrlich.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly stated when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s nominee as transportation secretary decided to rescind the firing of Anne S. Ferro, the head of the Motor Vehicles Administration. Del. Robert L. Flanagan decided to retain Ferro Monday night, which was before any lawmakers learned of her termination letter. Flanagan told Ferro of his decision Tuesday morning. The Sun regrets the error.

Ferro was one of 30 administrators notified Monday by Ehrlich's transition office that they would be replaced.

The decision to fire Ferro prompted an outcry from lawmakers - including Republicans - who said she has an impeccable record and was nonpartisan.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, said "a lot of phone calls" were made Monday night and yesterday morning to save Ferro's job.

By midmorning, Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican who is Ehrlich's nominee for transportation secretary, called Ferro to tell her she was not being fired.

Flanagan said he intervened and convinced Ehrlich to keep Ferro because a number of lawmakers were furious.

At a previously scheduled afternoon committee hearing, Ferro held back tears as she thanked senators for coming to her defense.

"It is very meaningful to have everyone's confidence," said Ferro, who has been MVA administrator since 1997.

But later in the day, Greg Massoni, an Ehrlich spokesman, said there is no guarantee Ferro will remain in her current post.

"She will be part of this administration, whether it is in the present position or another plum spot," Massoni said.

Ehrlich's spokesmen refused to comment on whether Banks had been offered the post. Banks also declined to comment, but said, "I hope to very soon join the Ehrlich family."

Montgomery County Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat who is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said legislators will be in an uproar if Banks replaces Ferro.

"Getting [Ferro] a plum assignment is not what this is about," Frosh said. "This is about MVA and having the best person in that job."

Ferro has been widely credited with making MVA more customer-friendly and efficient.

"If you did a nationwide search for the most professional and customer-oriented motor vehicle head in the country, the person you would hire is Anne Ferro," said departing Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

But Ehrlich was unapologetic yesterday about his decision to replace top agency administrators in state government with Republican job-seekers.

"Both [political] parties take care of their own," Ehrlich said.

Parker F. Williams, who has headed the State Highway Administration for the past six years, is one agency chief who is definitely being replaced by Ehrlich. He received his letter of termination Monday.

Staff writers Stephen Kiehl and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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