- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Ehrlich administration acted “in an irrational manner” when it fired some state employees, and there is evidence that some people were fired for political reasons in violation of constitutional rights and state law, according to a draft report prepared for a committee looking into the administration’s hiring and firing practices.

The committee will meet Thursday to vote on the report, which was released yesterday and written by committee counsel Ward B. Coe III.

The four Republicans in the 12-member committee of state senators and delegates released a separate report saying that the inquiry was a partisan witch hunt that was “unnecessary, expensive and fruitless.”

The Republican members said hours of testimony and thousands of pages of documents proved that “the Ehrlich administration neither illegally separated state employees nor dispatched employees to departments and agencies for the purpose of identifying state employees for dismissal because of their political affiliations.”

Although the Coe draft has not been approved by Democratic members, two Democrats said they agree with its major findings.

“It shows what we’ve been saying all along. There was a pattern of illegal and inappropriate firings,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat. “The practices need to stop, and there probably needs to be some legislative corrections to the law as well.”

Delegate Luiz Simmons, Montgomery Democrat, agreed with the findings but said the report may not live up to its billing.

“I think the public was expecting us to say that the governor was the architect of a reign of terror, when it turns out he is the engineer of a train of abuses,” Mr. Simmons said.

The Democrat-controlled legislature began the inquiry more than a year ago amid charges that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, was sending hatchet men into state agencies to search out people who could be fired and replaced with employees loyal to the governor.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee fought for months over whether the firings went beyond the normal replacement of high-level employees that takes place when a new governor takes office, especially when a different political party assumes charge.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, said the inquiry “affirms that the Ehrlich administration followed the personnel laws as they were written by the Maryland General Assembly.

“The Ehrlich administration always has and always will follow the personnel laws of the state,” he said.

The minority report said the inquiry is another example of overreaching by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

“It has ignored the facts and the law for the purpose of preserving its decades-long monopoly, to the detriment of the citizens of Maryland,” that report said.

Mr. Frosh argued that the inquiry was justified from an economic and policy standpoint.

“The fact is, nobody in recent memory has done anything like what they’ve done. Nobody took political hatchet men and sent them around to agencies to look for people who were disloyal,” he said.

Mr. Coe’s report said that in January 2003, “the Ehrlich administration issued a strong direction to change the state work force.”

The report said Ehrlich changed the role of his appointments office, putting it in charge of the effort to replace at-will employees who could be fired without cause.

The office traditionally had been used to screen candidates for state boards and commissions.

Mr. Coe said random replacement of employees in some cases had an adverse effect on morale and the management of state government.

The report recommended 10 changes in the law, including giving the right to file a lawsuit and collect attorney fees and damages in cases of political firings that violate state law, providing more protection for low-level employees and studying whether the number of at-will employees should be reduced.

Republicans say Democrats created the problems they now say need fixing with changes in the personnel law that were enacted during the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

“If the General Assembly wants to go back and fix some of the mistakes they made in the 1990s, the governor would be happy to work with them,” Mr. Fawell said.

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