Ehrlich is wrong, former mayor says

In dispute over director of agency, Schmoke sides with O'Malley

November 26, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Kurt L. Schmoke, Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. doesn't have the facts right or history on his side in his dispute with Mayor Martin O'Malley over who gets to appoint the city's director of social services.

Schmoke, who led the city from 1987 to 1999, said he picked all three of the social service directors who served during his tenure, including Yvonne Gil- christ (from 1995 to June 2003), Alvin C. Collins (1992-1995) and Shirley Marcus (1988-1992).

"The process has been the mayor selects someone and runs the name by the governor. Unless the governor has real heartburn about the choice, then the mayor usually gets the person," said Schmoke, who was named dean of the Howard University Law School in Washington last year.

"The director, although a member of a state agency, is a member of the mayor's Cabinet and has important responsibilities to the people of the city," said Schmoke, who is not an ally of O'Malley's. "There is usually great deference to the mayor's pick."

The law says that the mayor and governor must jointly appoint the director of the agency, which serves about 50,000 children and adults in the city who receive foster care, welfare payments, food stamps and other services.

But in September, Ehrlich and his secretary of human services, Christopher J. McCabe, picked Floyd R. Blair as the department's interim director, without the agreement of O'Malley.

The mayor filed a lawsuit against the governor Monday, claiming that Blair doesn't have the city's approval or the five years of management experience required by law.

O'Malley also complained that Ehrlich is treating Baltimore differently than other municipalities in the state, which have a voice in the selection of their local social service directors.

In explaining why the state picked a candidate without the mayor's approval, McCabe said Sunday that the previous director, Gilchrist, was selected a similar way.

McCabe said that former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration picked Gilchrist against Schmoke's will, and that she served as interim director for 18 months until Schmoke finally gave his consent to make her director.

"That is just not correct -- factually not correct," Schmoke said yesterday.

Schmoke said that in March 1995, he picked Gilchrist, then a high-ranking state human services administrator, after receiving recommendations from the city's social service commission and from Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a longtime friend of Gilchrist.

After forwarding the name to Glendening -- who often had conflicts with Schmoke -- the governor granted his approval, and Gilchrist became the permanent director after a delay while the paperwork was processed, Schmoke said. Gilchrist was named acting director in March 1995, then director in January 1996.

A spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, Norris West, said yesterday that what happened in the past is irrelevant because the agency was poorly run under Democrats such as Glendening and Schmoke. Now Ehrlich and McCabe, both Republicans, are trying to straighten it out, West said.

"We are trying to break tradition and fix problems, because tradition has not served Baltimore or the Department of Social Services well in the past," West said.

"It seems bizarre that we keep talking about fixing the Department of Social Services, but we are asked to keep doing things the same way," West said of governors deferring to mayors on the choice for director.

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