- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Maryland Democratic lawmakers have placed no spending limits on an investigation of the Ehrlich administration’s firings of state workers.

“We tried to put a cap on it,” said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards of Garrett County. “We tried to get some answers and couldn’t get it. We should know where the money is coming from and set a cap.”

Mr. Edwards is one of four Republicans on the 12-member Special Joint Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and a committee member, said the panel will be funded from the General Assembly’s account, which he said usually has $100,000 to $200,000 in available funds.

Mr. Frosh also defended not placing a spending limit on the investigation.

“I don’t think we know how much it is going to cost,” he said. “We don’t know until we interview counsel. We don’t know how much the administration is going to cooperate. I don’t think we can set a cost ceiling yet.”

The committee’s chairmen — Sen. Thomas M. Middleton of Charles County and Delegate Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County, both Democrats — did not return calls seeking information about the panel’s funding and staffing.

During a five-hour meeting Wednesday night, committee members dickered over the panel’s rules and other issues, and listened to statistics about state workers. The meeting was the panel’s second, and was notably less contentious — but more laborious — than its Aug. 22 meeting.

Democrats, who make up the committee’s majority, declined to place a $50,000 cap on expenditures until outside counsel is hired through the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Mr. Edwards said yesterday.

“We think, if anything, it should have been the other way around, but it didn’t work that way,” Mr. Edwards said.

He said the investigation could require additional personnel from the attorney general’s staff and employees from committee members’ personal staffs.

Democrats also rejected Republicans’ requests to hire their own outside legal counsel and to have the opportunity to call witnesses.

The committee, which is scheduled to continue its organizational meetings on Sept. 29 and Oct. 18, includes several staffers, according to the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

Democratic lawmakers have accused Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, of firing dozens of state workers for political reasons. The inquiry is the legislature’s first of someone outside the General Assembly in more than 25 years.

Republicans have accused Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt,” and Mr. Ehrlich’s legal counsel has sought to remove from the investigatory panel two Democrats who have decided that the administration has acted illegally.

Mr. Frosh and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County told The Washington Times earlier this year they think the Ehrlich administration has fired workers illegally. Mr. Middleton has declined to remove them from the committee.

Meanwhile, the state Court of Appeals has upheld one of the Ehrlich administration’s firings. Chrys Wilson, a Democrat, had sought to be reinstated as manager of the Office of External Relations of the Public Service Commission.

Mrs. Wilson, who had been on administrative leave since last year, was fired by commission Chairman Kenneth Schisler in April 2004, not long after he had been appointed and confirmed in the post.

She had fought her dismissal in October and was reinstated, but fired again. The court upheld the second dismissal because the majority of the commission had approved it.

The appeals court ordered Mrs. Wilson’s suit dismissed, concluding that she had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to her.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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