- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that Maryland’s foster care program is a priority and that his administration is working to fix long-standing problems.

“We’re not perfect, believe me; but we have improved on what we inherited,” Mr. Ehrlich said on WBAL Radio. “These are kids obviously in very difficult situations.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, made the statements after Maryland Human Resources Secretary Christopher McCabe called in to say Mr. Ehrlich was “the first governor, I believe in over a decade, who is taking a real interest in the plight of these kids.”

The statements also were among the most recent in the ongoing controversy about a former Ehrlich aide and came a few days after Mr. Ehrlich accused Michelle Lane, who once worked on state foster care projects, of trying to blackmail him.

Mr. Ehrlich told reporters to investigate Miss Lane, whom he believes is involved in a politically motivated conspiracy against him.

The governor said Miss Lane sent him a threatening e-mail last month in which she promised to go public with damaging e-mails she received from Joseph F. Steffen Jr., a former administration staff member who resigned in February after acknowledging his participation in Internet rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s private life. Mr. O’Malley is a potential Democratic Party challenger for Mr. Ehrlich in the 2006 gubernatorial race.

The investigation of Miss Lane, a former Ehrlich loyalist, has uncovered documents and e-mails that she wrote in 2003 before being fired from her state job. Critics of the administration say the documents might also show the governor has mishandled the state’s foster care system.

Miss Lane, 39, of Baltimore County, once worked for Mr. Ehrlich as a congressional aide and a campaign worker. She took a job in the Maryland Department of Human Resources on Mr. Ehrlich’s inauguration day to work on the administration’s new programs aimed at protecting vulnerable foster children, friends and colleagues told the Baltimore Sun.

Miss Lane, a registered nurse who treated abused children in hospitals, apparently became quickly frustrated. In reports and e-mails to supervisors, she pointed out what she called dangerous lapses in the Baltimore city Department of Social Services, which serves about 7,000 children.

A department spokesman said Miss Lane’s criticisms are not entirely accurate. “You have a person who has been on the rampage for some time, and now it is just coming out,” spokesman Norris P. West said.

In her e-mail to Mr. Ehrlich, Miss Lane included personal messages she exchanged with Mr. Steffen that appear to show his role as an operative involved in hirings and firings. Miss Lane said she would release more e-mails if the administration didn’t stop trying to blame her for news media leaks about Mr. Steffen’s Internet postings.

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