Firing inquiry won't be partisan, say legislators

Leaders dispute criticism from governor's counsel

August 05, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Legislative leaders repudiated criticism yesterday of their committee to investigate Ehrlich administration personnel practices, saying that the probe is not a partisan exercise but an attempt to ensure the quality of the state work force.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch responded to a series of attacks by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief counsel, Jervis S. Finney, and other administration officials. Finney has accused two committee members of prejudging the administration's guilt and has demanded they resign.

"There have been a number of politically motivated attacks waged against this committee even before it has met, studied the issue or considered a work product," Miller and Busch, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to committee members.

"Ironically, partisan opponents of the committee's mission have accused members of predetermining their opinions on these matters," they added. "We would ask these antagonists to cease the character attacks and obstructions and heed their own words. Judgment of any committee member's performance, or the committee as a whole, should be reserved until the committee executes its charge."

Democrats say the committee is necessary to determine whether the administration has acted improperly in firing long-time, midlevel bureaucrats and whether state law should give more workers civil service protections. The allegations came to light after revelations of the activities of Joseph F. Steffen Jr., an Ehrlich aide fired after he acknowledged circulating rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Steffen was also accused of compiling lists of workers to be fired at state agencies.

Ehrlich and his aides have said the administration fired fewer workers than its predecessors and that all terminations were proper.

Finney was on vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment. Ehrlich press secretary Greg Massoni said the administration would have no objection to a fair inquiry into the personnel practices of the governor and his predecessors.

But Massoni said some committee members have publicly stated their belief that the administration acted improperly or illegally.

"It's time to stop wasting taxpayers' time and money," Massoni said. "When you have members on the committee that have publicly stated what we're doing is illegal ... how is that fair?"

Finney and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele have accused Sens. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County and Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County, both Democrats, of prejudging the administration. Both have said they can be impartial and fair.

Miller and Busch wrote in their letter, which is addressed to the panel's eight Democrats and four Republicans, that they want to make decisions about the committee's proceedings by the end of the month. Issues such as whether the committee will hire an independent counsel or have subpoena power still must be decided by the Legislative Policy Committee.

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