Personnel panel members fight over procedural rules

GOP says Democrats stacking deck in review of Ehrlich hiring practices

September 15, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN STAFF

The special committee reviewing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personnel practices sparred last night before adopting procedural rules - a five-hour meeting that was the latest chapter in a continuing struggle between the group's Democrats and Republicans.

The rules will allow the panel to subpoena witnesses and documents - provisions sharply criticized by Republicans.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Senate minority leader, accused his Democratic colleagues of crafting the proposed rules unilaterally.

"These rules were drafted without any minority input," Stoltzfus said.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who is the committee's co-chairman, responded by saying that Stoltzfus was making a fuss only because reporters were in the room.

"I think that's an inaccurate statement, Senator," Middleton said. "We listened very intently."

Middleton reminded Stoltzfus that he attended a Monday meeting about the rules and was given time then to discuss his concerns.

Democrats outnumber Republicans on the committee, 8-4. The panel voted last night to reject a proposed GOP amendment that would have allowed the Republicans to hire an attorney or staff.

Del. George C. Edwards, the House minority leader, argued vigorously for that right. "We should be able to call witnesses who have the other side of the story," Edwards said.

Middleton said that he and panel co-chairwoman Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County would face sharp public criticism if they didn't permit witnesses with different perspectives to testify.

The group also discussed whether individuals with an interest in testifying would have to put their complaint in writing first for the committee to review.

"We don't want everybody with a gripe to come in here," Middleton said.

The committee also decided to accept resumes from lawyers applying to work as the group's outside counsel. Resumes will be reviewed by Sept. 27, and narrowed to three to five candidates for the job.

The GOP proposed other rules last night, including a provision that would allow minority members to appoint an alternate to attend in his or her place should a conflict arise. That proposal was ultimately withdrawn.

The General Assembly's Democratic leaders have said they formed the committee to determine whether the Ehrlich administration acted improperly in firing longtime midlevel bureaucrats and whether state law should give more workers civil service protections.

Maryland's highest court reversed a lower court's order this week that would have required the Public Service Commission to reinstate a former employee who contended that her firing was politically motivated.

Chrys Wilson, a Democrat, had said she was improperly fired by the commission's Republican chairman. She successfully fought her dismissal, was reinstated, but then was fired again. The Court of Appeals agreed that the first firing was unlawful because Chairman Kenneth Schisler, a former Republican legislator, acted alone. But the court upheld the second dismissal because other commissioners agreed to it.

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