Generous to a fault

February 08, 2005

BALTIMORE County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina and his attorney are $100,000 richer today. No doubt there's a shiny new car in somebody's future. It's a less fortuitous event for Maryland taxpayers. They're the ones getting stuck for the bill. And whom do we have to thank? Nobody's rushed forward to take credit, but this much is clear: The Ehrlich administration has some explaining to do.

Mr. Gardina was fired in 2003 from a $56,000 post within the Maryland Environmental Service. Trouble is, his bosses say he was doing a great job. Politics had nothing to do with his hiring: He got the job after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took office. But at some point, the Ehrlich inner circle found out that a prominent Democrat was on the state payroll. And even though the MES is an independent agency and Mr. Gardina was not in a patronage job, he got the ax. And guess what? That's against the law.

At least that's what Mr. Gardina's lawsuit alleged. And Mr. Ehrlich's aides aren't contradicting this account. In fact, they're not talking much about it at all - even though Mr. Gardina has waived his privacy rights. Daniel M. Clements, Mr. Gardina's attorney, notes that the state's settlement offer came on the eve of depositions - when he was going to find out exactly who ordered Mr. Gardina's firing.

We recognize that Mr. Ehrlich has a right to appoint whom he wants in policy jobs. His staff even has the right to make mistakes (like ignoring a midlevel bureaucrat's constitutional rights). They even had the right to fire Mr. Gardina without giving cause - just not because of his political affiliation. But paying out $100,000 to Mr. Gardina in order to avoid political embarrassment? That's an even bigger political embarrassment.

The episode fits a pattern of bumbled personnel actions from the Public Service Commission to the Maryland State Board of Elections. In all these illegal firings, somebody needs to be held accountable. Taxpayers deserve a little respect, too.

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