Much to do, too little time

The Political Game

Report: A commission on efficiency in state government has finished a draft of its findings but says more study is needed. Some critics question its methods.

November 11, 2003|By David Nitkin and Michael Dresser | David Nitkin and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

EVEN AS IT worked largely outside of public view, the Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government ran out of time to complete the job its members thought was necessary.

Formed in August, the commission -- headed by former Gov. Marvin Mandel -- released a draft report of its findings yesterday. Throughout the 119-page document, commission members noted areas where they would like to explore more, but weren't able to do so.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has asked for final recommendations by mid-December, in time to prepare any necessary legislation.

The report says more study is needed, for example, on how to process workers' compensation claims more quickly.

Higher education is another area that needs more scrutiny, but the report says "this committee, in the limited time available, could not accomplish" the review.

"I regret that we didn't have more time to test the public waters with these agencies, to test how they were doing," said Louise L. Heyman, a commission member who works for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

In some areas, the panel appointed by Ehrlich focused a more critical eye than thay might have if Democrats were running the show.

The commission recommends disbanding the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority, a cherished project of former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., and transferring land around the C&O Canal in Cumberland to the city or Allegany County.

In an aside that is yet another blow to Taylor's legacy, the report says, "Although the Rocky Gap Resort and the adjoining amphitheater were not specifically part of this committee's study, it is recommended that consideration also be given to turning those entities over to Allegany County or to selling them to the private sector."

But in other places, the commission appeared to reach the findings that Ehrlich wanted.

During his campaign, Ehrlich said he would create a new Cabinet-level position to provide services to people with disabilities, and has promised to include money in next year's budget to accomplish the task.

The commission signed off on that plan. One of its recommendations: "Elevate the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities to Cabinet-level status."

The Mandel commission has scheduled a public hearing Thursday to discuss the report, and Ehrlich is expected to make remarks there.

Still, criticism continues that Mandel has conducted most of the commission's work outside of public view, raising the possibility that the state's open-meetings law has been violated.

While the governor's office provided notice of two public hearings, other meetings of the commission were not advertised.

Donna Walsh, a business partner to Mandel, says that a schedule was provided at the commission's first meeting. It appears, however, that no member of the media was there to receive it.

Michael Duck, Capital News Service reporter who has covered the commission most thoroughly, said he has attended two meetings plus a public hearing, and never received a printed schedule.

Assistant Attorney General Jack Schwartz, who specializes in the state open-meetings laws, said a public body must give "reasonable advance notice" of its meetings. There is discretion, Schwartz said, in how that notice is given.

James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said the secretive style has cast aspersions on the panel's final product.

"How can they expect their recommendations to be taken seriously if they won't comply with the open meetings law?" Browning said.

Murphy resigns as head of Baltimore County GOP

Former Del. Donald E. Murphy has resigned as chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party to open a bipartisan lobbying practice with a former Democratic lawmaker.

Murphy said yesterday that he will join forces with former Montgomery County Del. Gilbert J. Genn after Murphy's resignation takes effect Sunday -- the day after the state Republican Party convention ends.

Lobbying firms in which former Democratic and Republican officeholders team up are a fixture in the Washington political scene, but the new firm of Genn & Murphy is apparently the only one of its kind in Annapolis in some time.

Murphy said the bipartisan nature of the firm will help it attract clients who want to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Republican Ehrlich administration.

"We come different ends of the state and the political spectrum," Murphy said. "If you don't like one of us, you'll love the other."

Murphy said Christopher Cavey, treasurer of the county party, was elected to succeed him at a meeting of the central committee last night.

Vote set by Republicans over Hispanic Caucus

The weekend GOP convention also will provide the latest skirmish in the battle between state party chairman John Kane and the Maryland Republican Hispanic Caucus, headed by Montgomery County activist Jorge Ribas.

A vote is scheduled to decertify the caucus, which was formed in the spring, because Kane is upset with Ribas's comments that the Ehrlich administration has not moved quickly enough to hire Hispanics.

State party executive director Eric Sutton has sent a detailed two-page chronology of alleged misdeeds by Ribas to county central committee chairs, trying to make a case for the vote.

Ribas said yesterday that he doesn't care if his group is decertified and another Hispanic group created to take its place. "Certification is only symbolic," he said. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

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