- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Maryland state Sen. Paula Colodny Hollinger yesterday refused the administration’s demand that she “correct the record” regarding her statements that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s staff illegally fired state workers.

“There is nothing to correct,” said Mrs. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat and member of the Special Joint Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections.

Instead, Mrs. Hollinger repeated her assertion that the state’s decision to settle a lawsuit by Baltimore County Council member Vincent J. Gardina, who said he was fired from his state job because of his party affiliation, proves the administration acted illegally.

“I can’t imagine that they are giving away $100,000 in taxpayer money if they think there was nothing wrong there,” she said.

However, the $100,000 settlement included a “no admissions of liability” clause.

Mr. Gardina, a Democrat, declined to comment about lawmakers citing the settlement as evidence of wrongdoing by the administration.

“That’s their opinion,” he said. “I cannot comment on their opinion.”

Mrs. Hollinger is one of eight Democrats on the 12-member panel, which will investigate Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican — the General Assembly’s first probe of someone outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

The investigation is expected to focus on more than 7,000 at-will state employees, who serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be fired without cause.

Mr. Gardina, a Democrat, sued the governor in 2003 after being fired from the at-will post of project manager at Maryland Environmental Services, a job he held for about five months. The administration settled the case in February.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office and a spokesman for the governor declined yesterday to elaborate on the reason for the settlement.

Still, the comments by Mrs. Hollinger and other Democrats on the special committee have fueled criticism that the probe is a partisan “witch hunt” intended to embarrass Mr. Ehrlich on the eve of his re-election campaign.

“The water is calm, but the sharks are circling,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and one of four Republicans on the special committee. “It is a partisan-driven battle.”

Democratic leaders, however, insist the probe is a bipartisan effort aimed at ensuring the stability of the government work force.

The Washington Times reported June 29 that Mrs. Hollinger and Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat on the committee, had prejudged the legality of the administration’s actions before the panel had convened.

Mrs. Hollinger was quoted as saying the administration’s firings were “against the law.”

Mr. Frosh was quoted as saying: “The stuff the Ehrlich administration has done is illegal.”

The administration responded by requesting that Mr. Frosh recuse himself from the investigation and Mrs. Hollinger retract her statements. Both senators refused, and both have used the Gardina settlement to defend their positions.

The committee since has met twice to establish ground rules for the probe — including authorizing subpoena power and the use of outside counsel — but has yet to delve into the inquiry.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 29.

Mrs. Hollinger cited the Gardina settlement at the committee’s Aug. 25 meeting, saying her assertions that the administration illegally fired workers were not derived from bias against the governor but from “cases already settled.”

Her remarks at the meeting prompted Jervis S. Finney, the governor’s chief legal counsel, to send the senator a letter Sept. 9 reiterating his call for her to address the bias issue and correct the record.

He first demanded Mrs. Hollinger address the issues in an Aug. 1 fax to the senator. She did not formally respond to the chief counsel, but publicly defended herself at the Aug. 25 meeting.

“[T]he question remains whether you have made up your mind, and, if so, on what?” Mr. Finney said in the Sept. 9 letter.

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