- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday his legal staff is drafting an executive order to save a child-welfare agency that was dismantled by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, described the push by House Democratic leaders to eliminate half of the jobs at the Office of Children, Youth and Families and transfer programs to other agencies as “just negligence.”

“It showed a lack of interest in children and this coordinating agency, which takes care of at-risk kids,” he told The Washington Times.

Among the cuts was the agency’s top post, held by M. Teresa Garland, who has ties to the governor’s wife. The governor has accused Democratic leaders of targeting her as a payback for some Democrats losing appointment-level state jobs.

An administration official said yesterday the executive order cannot fully restore the child-welfare office, which coordinates after-school programs and other community-based services. However, Mr. Ehrlich can rehire some agency staffers by moving them to other positions and reconstitute some of the agency’s authority by executive order, the official said.

The state constitution gives the governor wide latitude to set policy and organize government agencies while the General Assembly is not in session. The child-welfare office was originally created through an executive order.

The office will remain intact and its workers on the payroll until July 1, the start of the new budget.

The governor expects to issue the executive order in the next few weeks. He said it was needed because the agency fell victim to the partisan acrimony that dominated the General Assembly session, which ended Monday night.

Mr. Ehrlich has also said House Democratic leaders engaging in party politics blocked his efforts to legalize slot-machine gambling and give tax breaks to retired military veterans.

“I guess [it was] for partisan purposes, but I don’t see the political advantage of leaving [the child-welfare agency] in pieces on the ground,” he said.

Ms. Garland said Democratic leaders wanted to undermine the administration’s plan to make the office a Cabinet-level agency.

“It was never going to happen because it would be deemed a win by the governor,” she said.

Ms. Garland said she was grateful but not surprised that the governor planned to save the office.

“I know how committed he is to children,” she said.

Democratic leaders say they had planned for years to close the office.

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the committee that handled some of the child-welfare agency bills, has said it was poorly run and that other agencies could operate the programs without the excess management staff.

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