- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that the conciliatory tone struck by Democratic leaders this week was an indication that they know the probe of administration firings will not reveal wrongdoing by his administration.

“I think they found out that there is nothing there, Mr. Ehrlich,” a Republican, told The Washington Times while visiting a practice session at the Baltimore Ravens’ training facility.

Mr. Ehrlich said the amicable tenor Monday at the first meeting of the 12-member Special Joint Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections was in stark contrast to the rhetoric Democrats used six months ago when calling for an investigation of the governor — the legislature’s first probe of someone outside the General Assembly in more than 25 years.

Mr. Ehrlich said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, was now alone among the eight Democrats on the committee and the leadership in continuing to accuse the governor’s staff of illegally firing appointed state employees.

“Give me a break,” Mr. Ehrlich said of Mr. Frosh’s charge. “It’s nothing about nothing.”



Mr. Frosh did not return a call seeking comment yesterday evening.

Mr. Frosh, who was silent throughout the hourlong meeting Monday, told The Times afterward that he still thinks the Ehrlich administration broke the law, and he predicted that the investigation would substantiate his claim.

Earlier this month, Mr. Frosh rebuffed an administration request that he withdraw because of his reputed bias against the governor.

The Times reported June 29 that Mr. Frosh and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat on the panel, expressed opinions about the legality of the administration’s actions before the committee had convened.

Mrs. Hollinger on Monday did not repeat her accusation that the administration firings were “against the law.” Yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich also said the narrowly focused investigation — which would look at giving more protections to the more than 7,000 at-will state workers who can be fired without cause — proposed Monday was a far cry from the types of investigations Democrats demanded six months ago.

The current inquiry stems from charges that longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. secretly worked at identifying state employees to be fired for insufficient loyalty to the administration.

The accusations surfaced after the governor discharged Mr. Steffen from a midlevel state job in February for using the Internet to spread rumors of infidelity about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a potential rival of Mr. Ehrlich’s in the 2006 governor’s race.

At the time, Democratic leaders called for an investigation into administration rumor mongering and its purging of Democrats from the state work force.

The committee now is considering a draft resolution establishing the scope and mechanics of the probe, which included subpoena power.

The resolution said the committee would examine the personnel practices of the Ehrlich administration and recent Democratic administrations to determine whether state law provides sufficient protections against “illegal and unconstitutional” firings.

The resolution also charged the committee with deciding whether firings of state employees have damaged the “efficiency and effectiveness” of state agencies.

The committee will meet tomorrow to vote on the resolution and any amendments.

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