Despite legislators' promise of hearings this spring, an investigation into Ehrlich administration personnel practices will likely not occur for several months, leaving in the lurch former state employees who have come forward seeking answers for why they were fired.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller originally suggested that the
General Assembly begin a probe immediately after the legislative session ended
in April, to examine accusations that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s
administration was rooting out midlevel bureaucrats who were insufficiently
loyal to the governor.
But Miller now says the inquiry won't start until the fall, after an
assistant attorney general assigned to the legislature mops up post-session
Aides to Ehrlich, a Republican, suspect lawmakers are purposely dragging
their feet, fearful that an inquiry would expose requests from Democratic
legislators to protect jobs held by friends and relatives.
Not all legislators support the delay. Leaders in the House of Delegates
say they are ready to start hearings immediately and have begun interviewing
former state employees who have complained, some privately and some publicly,
that they were abruptly fired despite strong performance records.
Del. Adrienne A. Jones, the speaker pro tem and a Baltimore County Democrat
assigned to head the House investigation, said she has met with several former
workers and is scheduling meetings with others. She started getting calls
during the legislative session, she said, and wanted to take action, even if
the formal hearings haven't been scheduled, so the former employees don't feel
"I didn't want them to think I didn't care. That's why I went ahead on my
own," Jones said. "I think I owe that to them - there's a credibility factor
Darcy Massof, an attorney representing several former state employees, said
her clients grew excited during the session at the prospect of the hearings
and are counting on the legislature to uncover the reasons they were fired. "I
would think they would have liked to see them initiated by now and will be
unhappy if they continue getting delayed," Massof said. "Things get delayed,
and then they never happen."
Questions about Ehrlich's personnel practices grew to a fever pitch in
February, with the disclosure that a longtime aide, Joseph F. Steffen Jr., had
been spreading rumors on the Internet about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's
private life. The mayor has denied the rumors; Steffen was fired.
Workers came forward, saying Steffen was part of a band of Ehrlich
loyalists dispatched to several agencies to root out relatively low-level
employees and replace them with staffers more loyal to the governor. Ehrlich
has denied replacing employees for political reasons and says his hiring
practices have been less political than those of past governors.
Miller insisted that he believes the hearings are important but that the
details will take time to work out. "It's going to take place. It's just a
question of when," Miller said.
Paul E. Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director, said it sounds like
Democrats are making excuses because they're afraid of what will become public
during an investigation into political influence in hiring practices. The
governor has said he would cooperate fully with the investigation and in doing
so would disclose Democratic elected officials who have lobbied the
administration to hire or retain their friends.
"This reluctance shows how ridiculous and political the complaints have
been since the beginning," Schurick said. "Now they realize that they've
painted themselves into a corner."
Resolving key questions such as the timing, format and scope of the
investigation would have to be worked out by the General Assembly's
Legislative Policy Committee, a group that also can authorize subpoena powers.
It is scheduled to meet June 14.
Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of the
administration's sharpest critics, wanted the House to adopt a resolution
during the session authorizing a committee with subpoena power and a
professional investigator, rather than waiting for the committee to act.
Now the House is forced to wait for Miller's approval, leaving former
employees to wonder whether their complaints will be investigated, Franchot
"Mike Miller is all talk and no action," Franchot said. "He says he wants
an investigation, but I'm very skeptical that an investigation will occur, and
at the end of the day, Bob Ehrlich has him in his back pocket."
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee,
said he is confident the hearings will take place and that the investigative
committee will have subpoena power. He said he thinks the investigation should
start by looking into Steffen's activities.
"There are many people, career civil servants who were fired and taken out
of their offices by policemen, and their pictures posted at the bottom of the
building with instructions they're not to be allowed to re-enter," Frosh said.
"People who've gotten excellent reviews, never been criticized for their
performance or disciplined for anything are treated like criminals. Obviously,
Mr. Steffen is a jumping-off point, but there are plenty of others."
Busch backs inquiry
House Speaker Michael E. Busch endorsed the hearings during the session and
said last week that they need to take place. "There has to be some
investigation," Busch said. "The governor indicated he supported it. The
Senate president identified it as a good idea. Ask the Senate president [when
the hearings will start.] The House is ready to go."
Jones said it's too soon to say whether the accusations by employees amount
to a systemic problem.
"I have to go through several different agencies to see if there was a
pattern," Jones said. "Some of them were unique circumstances ... and there
are some issues we may be able to help them with in terms of pension issues
and so on."
Counting on legislature
One of the former employees who spoke to Jones, Wanda Maynor-Kearse, said
she was fired from her job as superintendent of educational services for the
Department of Juvenile Services in February. She said she had consistently
gotten glowing performance evaluations and encouragement about her work from
She said she has spoken with a lawyer but is counting on the legislature to
get answers about why she and other holdovers from Democratic administrations
"If they find that they really got rid of all of us because we're Democrats
or whatever it was, somebody who has outstanding evaluations and has made such
a difference, I just think there must be something that can be done,"