Republican claims Ulman cost her a job at Howard chamber

Diane Wilson files ethics complaint

February 08, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A Republican activist and former candidate is complaining that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and County Councilman Calvin Ball, both Democrats, used their political influence to force her resignation from a private-sector job.

Diane Wilson was a lobbyist for the local Chamber of Commerce for less than a week last month — a job that required her to inform and influence the officeholders in Democrat-dominated Howard County that she worked to defeat in November. Four of the five council members are Democrats, as are eight of the 11 Howard state legislators.

The complaint was made public Monday by blogger Richard J. Cross III, who worked in the administration of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Wilson said she filed a formal ethics complaint Jan. 19 accusing Ulman and Ball of using the "'prestige of their office' inappropriately" to influence top chamber officials to force her out. Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Jennifer Sager said she could not confirm or deny the complaint, though Wilson confirmed she made one.

Ulman initially declined comment on advice of the county solicitor, but later said he wanted to explain that he did not seek to get Wilson fired.

"Nobody said 'fire her,'" Ulman said. "I was surprised, disappointed, puzzled," he said, when the issue became public as an ethics complaint. He said he was not upset about Wilson's hiring, but he did call Mark Thompson, co-chair of the chamber's legislative committee, to tell him that "other people" were upset and felt the hiring might be a sign that the chamber wanted to distance itself from elected Democrats. "That was my single involvement," he said, adding that he had not known that Ball had also made a phone call. Ball did not comment Tuesday, saying that he had not seen any ethics complaint.

"I needed that job," said Wilson, 60, a former real estate agent and 36-year Columbia resident who most recently worked in Republican Dennis R. Schrader's campaign to replace Democrat Jen Terrasa on the Howard County Council. Despite her efforts and those of then-Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele — who starred at a private fundraiser for Schrader — he lost by a 2-to-1 margin.

"I'm outraged," Wilson said about losing the chamber job. "I'm furious about it. It's not right. It's just not right that they have the right to pick up the phone and affect my employment." Wilson said she was out of politics for a while working for the federal government, but lost her job in September, when she began working for Schrader's election. She's still looking for a new position.

She said in her complaint that chamber President and CEO Pam Klahr told her that Ball had contacted her and complained that Wilson was "too political."

Ulman, she alleged, called another chamber official with similar complaints, and Klahr then polled county legislators in Annapolis. By the end of that first week, Wilson was told she could not be effective in the job and was asked to resign, which she did.

Klahr confirmed Wilson had the job for one week but refused comment on a personnel matter. The job is vacant, she said.

Wilson ran for the County Council in 2002 against now-Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat, who is still smarting from Wilson's last-minute campaign mailer purporting to show him sleeping during council meetings. He claims it was a bogus ad and a personal attack.

"I was asked what I thought of this," Guzzone said of Klahr's inquiry about Wilson's new job. "I explained what had occurred [in the 2002 campaign]. I think it was bad behavior. I let it speak for itself."

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