State worker protections urged

Partisan bickering surrounds report on hiring practices under Ehrlich

October 13, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

The committee investigating Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personnel practices officially adopted a report yesterday calling for new protections for state employees.

As has been the case from the start, the committee's final meeting fell under a cloud of partisan discord. All four Republican legislators on the committee boycotted the session, instead sending an aide with a dissenting report assailing the Democrat-led inquiry as "unnecessary, expensive and fruitless."

Ward B. Coe III, the committee's attorney, defended the report and the timing of its release, less than a month before Election Day.

He said the committee found instances in which the Ehrlich administration terminated employees and brought in replacements based on political considerations, in violation of the longtime employees' constitutional rights, and other cases in which firings seemingly were random.

"All the factual statements were based on information brought before this committee by witnesses, and the legal analysis is solid," Coe said.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the General Assembly's focus on the investigation is evidence of its misplaced priorities.

"They spent 19 months and $1.1 million to find what we've been saying all along: The Ehrlich administration always has and always will obey the laws of the state," Fawell said.

The committee recommended measures including legal changes to clarify who has the authority to fire a state employee and to guarantee that a worker cannot be terminated to make room for someone based on the newly hired employee's political beliefs.

Democratic leaders in the legislature formed the committee after the firing last year of longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. for spreading rumors online about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

In the fallout from that scandal, it was alleged that Steffen and other aides were sent to state agencies to weed out workers who were insufficiently loyal to Ehrlich.

The committee's meeting was billed as its last, but it might not be. Steffen and two other officials, Gregory J. Maddalone and Craig B. Chesek, declined under oath to answer many questions from the committee, which has taken them to court in an effort to compel their testimony. Hearings are scheduled for the end of the month.

The Democratic committee members have asked Coe to determine whether perjury charges are warranted by investigating further what they consider inconsistencies between testimony by Ehrlich's appointments secretary, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., and an affidavit from a former official at the Maryland Environmental Service.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.