Ehrlich releases fired worker's file to panel

Data reveal administration aide signed off on Gardina's dismissal weeks after positive personnel review

Maryland

September 29, 2005|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s legal counsel released Vincent J. Gardina's personnel file yesterday, a move aimed at erasing questions about whether the former Maryland Environmental Service engineer was fired because of his connections to the Democratic Party.

"These documents don't reflect the validity of the claim that he was let go because of political affiliation," said Jervis Finney, the governor's attorney.

The documents were supplemented by e-mails revealing that an administration aide signed off on Gardina's firing. Finney's office also distributed printouts showing that Gardina had used his state computer and work station for tasks unrelated to his job.

Gardina was one of more than 6,000 state employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be fired at any time. A special committee, created this year, is investigating charges that the Ehrlich administration has fired employees, such as Gardina, for political reasons. The documents were released yesterday to the committee and news media.

Some Democrats on the committee said the timing of the documents' release is suspect. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, formally announced his candidacy for governor yesterday during a series of events across the state. Meanwhile, the special committee meets in Annapolis today having had little time to review the hundreds of documents distributed by Finney's office.

"Jervis is making me work," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Democrat and the committee's co-chairman. "They're playing these little tiny games."

The documents show that Gardina, who is also a Baltimore County councilman, received a largely positive personnel review in August 2003, just a few weeks before he was terminated. He received an average overall appraisal of 3.35 on a scale of 1 to 5. A 3, according to the form's rating scale, indicates a "fully successful" performance.

The review says that "Mr. Gardina has shown good judgment and initiative in taking on project management duties for projects." It also said that "he exhibits good teamwork skills, has good interactions with the rest of the section staff and with other staff in the division or program."

In Finney's latest letter to Middleton -- the men correspond often about the mission and makeup of the committee -- he cautioned against viewing Gardina's ranking as sufficient: "In practical terms, a score of 3.0 is average, a C grade, even though termed `fully successful,'" Finney wrote in the Sept. 28 letter.

Finney also calls Gardina "a mistaken poster-child for your so-called Special Committee."

Finney defended the administration for its reluctance over the past months to release Gardina's personnel file even though Gardina, who worked for five months on dredging projects, signed a waiver in February authorizing the release of all of his personnel information.

"After months of misstatements of fact from various legislators and other observers, the truth as to the Gardina personnel file documents needs to be revealed now to the committee and in the public record," he said.

In another letter to Middleton and his co-chair, Del. Adrienne A. Jones, Finney said he would turn over personnel documents for former Ehrlich campaign worker and Maryland Department of Human Resources employee Michelle Lane "and the other disgruntled ex-employees that you wish to invite to your so-called Special Committee."

He said the committee should provide a list of individuals (with a waiver signed by each) for whom it is seeking personnel records. In exchange, he asked that Ehrlich administration officials be invited to testify about each circumstance.

Dan Clements, Gardina's attorney, said the documents released by Finney's office include no real cause for Gardina's dismissal in September 2003 and that the administration has not answered the pressing question of why Gardina was fired.

"The review doesn't say he's terrible and incompetent," Clements said. "Au contraire, it says he's doing an adequate job and obviously wasn't the basis for his firing."

After his firing, Gardina sued the governor, claiming that he was terminated as a result of his political affiliation. He received a $100,000 settlement.

Along with the Gardina file, Finney released a stack of e-mails from Diane Baker, the administration's deputy appointments secretary. In those e-mails, Baker approves Gardina's firing.

"You can let Vince Gardina go. We have signed off on this end," she wrote to John Sparkman, who was then the head of Maryland Environmental Service.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and committee member, said the administration needs to explain why Baker was involved in Gardina's termination and who instructed her to issue the order that he be dismissed.

"How is it that Vince Gardina comes to the attention of the governor's appointments office?" Frosh said. "Why is it that they pay $100,000 to make him go away? The governor's appointments office shouldn't be involved in this at all."

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