State agency accused of bias

General Assembly's head of legislative staff should resign, delegate says

October 07, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Del. Tony E. Fulton is calling for the resignation of the head of the General Assembly's legislative staff, alleging that the department discriminates against African-Americans.

In a letter sent Friday to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Fulton criticizes the Department of Legislative Services and its director, Karl S. Aro, for failing to recruit and retain African-Americans on its fiscal services staff. The department is responsible for drafting and analyzing bills before the legislature and monitoring actions by the state Board of Public Works.

"African-American staff members generally have short tenures, and are deprived of incentives including promotion and management level positions," Fulton wrote in his letter. "I call for the resignation of Karl Aro, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, and respectfully ask that he be replaced with an advocate for equal opportunity in the workplace."

"You need to have a representation of African-Americans to ensure fair play," Fulton said in an interview yesterday.

Aro did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Although Fulton acted alone in his letter to legislative leaders, the issue has been a concern of the Legislative Black Caucus, which has been pressing for a more diverse department in recent months.

Miller said he and the speaker are aware of the concerns raised by Fulton and other black lawmakers, and have been urging Aro to ensure that increasing the diversity of the legislative staff is considered when hires are made.

"The 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly need to have confidence in these department heads," Miller said. "We would like their hires to reflect as much as possible Maryland's population in terms of its diversity. Over the years the speaker and myself ... made our views known that minority participation needs to be increased without firing persons but as positions come available."

Aro told Miller that the fiscal services has become increasingly diverse, with 50 percent of the staff positions held by women and 17 percent by African-Americans, Miller said.

In addition, Miller said, half of the six analysts the department hired recently are black. "Progress is being made," he said.

Twenty-eight percent of Maryland's population of more than 5.5 million is black.

Del. Rudolph C. Cane, an Eastern Shore Democrat and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, distanced himself from Fulton's letter, saying he acted on his own. Cane said the caucus has been reviewing the issue of diversity in the fiscal services department, but he declined to elaborate on those actions.

Fulton and Cane have been at odds since Cane was elected chairman of the black caucus in the spring over Baltimore Del. Clarence Davis, Fulton's choice. The black caucus has often been fragmented because of political and personality issues.

But the issue of diversity in the fiscal services department has been a clear sore spot for most, if not all, black lawmakers.

"The black caucus has taken action and has had results from that action," Cane said. "Our issue is being resolved."

Fulton, who has strained relations with several fellow Democrats because of his support for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his maverick style, said the increased pressure from black lawmakers has led to the recent hiring of the three black fiscal services staff members.

But more has to be done, he said. "This racism will raise its ugly head time and time again," he said. "If we as African-American legislators can't get substantial change ... then we have failed at what we were elected to do."

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