- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature yesterday disputed the cost of a 13-month investigation into Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s firing practices, after a preliminary report was released this week.

Republicans said the Democrat-controlled investigation cost more than $1.1 million because of requests for more than 17,000 documents.

“There was a huge demand for information by the committee,” said Eastern Shore Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, one of four Republicans on the 12-member investigative committee.

Democrats “want to dismiss that as not being costly, but the government paid those secretaries, staff people, agency heads. We were paying them, and they were wasting their time on this fruitless exercise,” said Mr. Stoltzfus, the Senate minority leader.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, called the $1.1 million figure “completely fabricated.”

“They refused to produce documents; they refused to produce witnesses; and then they complained that they spent a lot of time responding,” Mr. Frosh said. “If anything they drove up the cost.”

Mr. Frosh countered that the firing of 340 “at-will employees,” who can be removed for any reason except their political affiliation, cost the state between $3 million and $21 million.

He based that figure on a review by the Department of Legislative Services that looked at factors such as lost productivity, cost of replacement with temporary or overtime workers, loss of institutional knowledge and the costs of recruitment and training of new workers.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the $1.1 million figure was the result of work hours expended in retrieving documents, which in many cases resulted in overtime for state employees.

The governor’s office produced the highest bill from its work pulling documents — $426,736.02.

“There were nights where members of the governor’s staff stayed until midnight printing volumes and volumes of information,” Mr. Fawell said. “We bent over backwards to work in a bipartisan fashion. The favor was not returned.”

The committee, whose members were appointed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, paid $354,804 to attorney Ward B. Coe III as the independent counsel.

The Department of Legislative Services produced a $198,080 bill, and six other agencies did $133,178 worth of work, according to the report by the Republicans on the committee.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said the investigation was worth the cost, even if it is $1.1 million. “It’s our job to protect the integrity of the work force,” he said.

“It cost Ehrlich and [Comptroller William Donald] Schaefer $300,000 to do a commercial about crossing the Bay Bridge,” Mr. Busch said, referring to a commercial about the EZ Pass electronic toll system.

The committee’s findings were released Monday in draft form, and the committee will meet tomorrow to discuss revisions.

Mr. Ehrlich is the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years and is seeking re-election in a heated contest with the Democratic nominee, Baltimore Mayor MartinO’Malley.

The investigation report was released four weeks and one day before the Nov. 7 general election.

Republicans and Democrats dispute the nature of the committee’s findings.

Democrats say that they found evidence of illegal firings by Ehrlich administration officials, where state employees were fired for being Democrats. They also say that the firings were conducted by persons who did not have the authority to do so, specifically Joseph Steffen, a former congressional staffer for Mr. Ehrlich who came with him to Annapolis.

Republicans say that the accusations are without evidence or merit.

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