- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A state senator yesterday asked for an ethics investigation after Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot released the names and salaries of 4,678 state employees to a newspaper that requested them.

The newspaper made the request only after Mr. Franchot suggested he would make them available.

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr.’s call for an investigation represents another cannon shot in an increasingly bitter battle between the comptroller and Senate leadership.

Franchot spokesman Joseph Shapiro said Mr. DeGrange “misunderstands state law and the importance of transparency in government.” Mr. Shapiro said the state’s public information law “very clearly states” that the salary of an employee is a matter of public record.

“The comptroller takes very seriously his obligation under the law to keep confidential records out of the public domain,” Mr. Shapiro said.

While the salaries of state employees are a matter of public record, Mr. DeGrange, Anne Arundel Democrat, said he thinks Mr. Franchot crossed a line by telling reporters he would provide the information without a formal request beforehand.

“Whatever reason could there be other than political purposes? There could be other people that may want information on specific people,” Mr. DeGrange said. “Was that information provided?”

The comptroller has expressed concerns that lawmakers have targeted his top deputies with budget cuts in retaliation for his open opposition to slot machine gambling and November’s special session of the General Assembly. Mr. Franchot told reporters Feb. 13 after a Board of Public Works meeting about his concern for rumored cuts, and he said he would be willing to provide a list of people in state government who make comparable money.

The next day, the Baltimore Examiner made a formal request by e-mail to the comptroller’s office for state employees who make more than $100,000 a year, citing the Maryland Public Information Act, and the comptroller’s office provided the information.

“By using and publicly releasing the names and salaries of 4,678 state employees to justify the salaries of individuals working in the comptroller’s office, the comptroller not only has committed an ethical breach, but has violated the public trust,” Mr. DeGrange wrote to Robert Hahn, who is the executive director of the State Ethics Commission.

Mr. Hahn declined to comment yesterday after the senator’s announcement.

Senators have criticized the comptroller, saying he was not helpful during the November special session, when lawmakers were considering and eventually passed an array of tax increases to help address a $1.7 billion structural deficit.

At a hearing last week, senators voiced their frustration at Mr. Franchot, saying they were angered by his implication that they were targeting him for political purposes.

Mr. Franchot, who is a statewide elected official, contends he has only been providing the independent voice the voters elected him to bring to Annapolis.

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