Sign up today and save up to 67% on a Hartford Courant digital subscription
CT Now

Governor creates jobs for his allies

Though he ran on a campaign to streamline state government after years ofDemocratic excess, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has quietly created newhigh-paying positions and layers of bureaucracy that, in many cases, rewardlegislative allies, campaign workers and others who helped him get elected,state payroll records show.

These new positions are among hundreds of other new hires that are expectedwhen any administration comes into office - from Cabinet secretaries to policyadvisers and clerical staff.

With this administration, the staffing turnover was compounded when onlythe second Republican since World War II took control of the governor's officeand its considerable patronage powers.

"The turnover's more dramatic because they are dismissing people that[previous Gov. Parris N.] Glendening probably didn't feel like he had todismiss when he took office," said James G. Gimpel, an associate professor ofgovernment at the University of Maryland, College Park.

As of early last month, the governor had hired 124 people to state jobspaying $70,000 or more, according to payroll records. And more are going onthe payroll with each passing week.

But beyond the expected replacements, Ehrlich is creating positions forpolitical allies and contributors, even as the state struggles to bring a $1billion budget shortfall under control and as deep funding cuts to theUniversity System of Maryland and state agencies force administrators toexplore layoffs, unparalleled tuition increases and cutbacks in services.

Some examples:

Malik Rahman, a longtime Baltimore political operative who had been a paidstaffer for Ehrlich's campaign, landed a new $71,123-a-year job in the stateHousing Department to "look at options" for financing housing projects.

Three new assistant secretary positions were created in the state'sPlanning Department that pay $66,884 to $80,312. The three people hired hadcampaigned for Ehrlich, one as a paid campaign staff member, the others asvolunteers.

Tim E. Braue, a lawyer who headed President Bush's campaign in Maryland in2000, was appointed to a new $90,270 position as special assistant to thesecretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. He said hismain responsibility initially was to coordinate the department's Preaknessevents, but he also will be working to get more federal grants flowing intothe state economic development agency.

Since taking office in mid-January, Ehrlich has found work for dozens ofprominent Republican officeholders, former legislators or their wives orrelatives. Some were hired for newly created jobs; others are fillingpositions that existed previously. How many have been hired into newly createdpositions is difficult to determine because some agencies have beenreorganized and some jobs have been retitled.

Ehrlich's spokesman, Greg Massoni, said that the administration is proud ofits hiring decisions. In reorganizing state government to make it moreefficient, Massoni said, the administration is cutting many positions even asit adds others.

"There are not just political thank-yous on that list," Massoni said. "It'snot business as usual. We have looked for the brightest and best and that'swho we've gone after, regardless of party affiliation."

He pointed out the appointment of people such as former Democratic Del.Kenneth C. Montague Jr. as secretary of the Juvenile Services Department andothers to other prominent positions.

However, some appointments have had clear political overtones.

For example, a waiver was granted to circumvent an existing hiring freezeto hire Julie S. Madden, wife of Ehrlich political adviser Martin G. Madden.She was appointed the director of arts and community outreach in theDepartment of Business and Economic Development. She was an art history majorin school, served as a trustee of Maryland Citizens for the Arts and was onthe board of the African Art Museum of Maryland in Columbia.

Massoni noted that the state's annual payroll costs overall are down "wellover $500,000" since Ehrlich assumed office, largely because many positionsare left unfilled as they become vacant. The state employs about 108,000people, including those working for colleges and universities, and has anannual payroll of $5.3 billion.

Government policy experts say it is normal for any new administration towant to bring in as many of its people as it can. A new governor has to putinto key positions people who will be loyal and who can be counted on toexecute his policies, said Gimpel, the University of Maryland professor.

"Loyalty is even first over experience and competency," Gimpel said. "Youwant all three, but loyalty is the first."

Referring to Ehrlich's appointments, Gimpel said, "It may be that theydon't have as much experience but what they bring to the administration isloyalty and the trust of the governor who wants these agencies ultimately tobe responsible to him."

But others are critical of Ehrlich for drawing so heavily from the ranks oflegislators and others in the political world to fill state positions.

"They have made a lot of political appointments but they are forgettingthat in addition to loyalty there has to be competence," said Del. PeterFranchot, a Montgomery County Democrat

Generally, he said, past governors have teamed their political appointeeswith professional staff "who are able to make the trains run on time."

Shuffling personnel

One of Ehrlich's more controversial hires early in his administration wasex-Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV for a $92,049- a-year job in the HousingDepartment.

Mitchell, who headed the Democrats for Ehrlich campaign committee, had beenreprimanded by the General Assembly's ethics commission last year for failingto disclose a $10,000 loan from three businessmen with issues before thelegislature. His appointment prompted a public outcry, and he was forced toresign two weeks after taking the state job.

Since then, Mitchell's top aide, Zachary L. McDaniels, who also helped inEhrlich's campaign, has been appointed to an $80,570-a-year job as Lt. Gov.Michael S. Steele's deputy chief of staff.

Although he works in Steele's office, McDaniels' salary is paid out of theDepartment of Natural Resources budget, payroll records show. McDanielsrefused interview requests about his duties.

Massoni said the Ehrlich administration is following a longtime practice ofborrowing - authorized state positions from other departments to meet itsstaffing needs.

Like Mitchell and McDaniels, Rahman also helped Ehrlich campaign inpredominantly African-American and Democratic Baltimore.

Campaign finance reports show that Rahman was paid $12,888 by Democrats forEhrlich.

"I was field coordinator and my job was to go out and get votes," saidRahman, who holds a criminal justice degree from Coppin State University.

Rahman said his role in the Housing Department's neighborhoodrevitalization division is to "look at options outside of the box" to helpfinance housing development projects in Baltimore City and Prince George's andMontgomery counties.

Remaking an agency

At the Planning Department, three new assistant secretary positions werecreated as part of an agency reorganization designed to make the departmentrun more smoothly, an agency spokesman said.

But others familiar with the agency said the hires added a new level ofbureaucracy that didn't exist under Glendening.

The positions are held by Tom W. Rimrodt, Aaron N. Tomarchio and Stephen S.Hershey Jr.

During Ehrlich's campaign, Rimrodt, whose salary is now $80,312, had been apaid deputy to the political director, Joseph M. Getty. Getty, a formerdelegate, is now a top aide to the governor with a salary of $120,000 a year.

Rimrodt, who also was a city manager for a small California town, overseesthree divisions in the Planning Department with about 50 employees.

The two other new assistant secretaries direct other divisions of theagency. Both said they did volunteer work on Ehrlich's campaign.

Tomarchio, who is paid $66,684 a year, had been a consultant with BoozAllen Hamilton in suburban Washington.

Hershey ran unsuccessfully last fall for a seat on the Queen Anne's CountyBoard of Commissioners. A former vice president of project management servicesfor a real estate firm, Hershey is paid $74,301 in his new state job.

Chuck Gates, a spokesman for the Planning Department, said the new layer ofbureaucracy was an outgrowth of talks with agency workers, who complained thatthe department lacked a unified vision and leadership.

"The decision made was that we needed to put in a layer of policy-orientedleadership that can help direct the overall mission of the department," Gatessaid.

Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott, a former Prince George's County Councilmember, chose as her deputy secretary Betsy Burian, who was her councillegislative aide. Burian is paid $90,270 a year. The position had been heldpreviously by a career department employee with degrees in management andplanning.

Scott also has hired a $33,399-a-year executive assistant whose dutiesinclude sometimes serving as her driver.

Despite the new positions, Gates said that the Planning Department isoperating with seven fewer people than it had as of mid-November because somepeople who have left have not been replaced. He said the agency has about 125positions.

Job searches

Some of Ehrlich's political appointees have followed tortuous paths beforefinally finding a place to land.

Robert Banks Jr., the general manager of a BMW dealership who says heraised more then $50,000 for Ehrlich, was in line to replace the well-regardedAnne S. Ferro as head of the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The decision infuriated a number of legislators from both parties - whopraised her reforms at the MVA - and Ferro was allowed to keep her position.But Banks still went on the state payroll, as special assistant to thetransportation secretary at a salary of $110,276 a year.

Banks said that he led the agency's efforts to work with Baltimore Cityofficials on snow removal efforts during this winter's major snowstorm inFebruary. "We kept the buses running; we were right in the operations center,"he said. He said he also has been involved in the reorganization of theMaryland Transit Administration.

Another appointment to draw critical attention was that of Phillip D.Bissett, a former legislator and unsuccessful candidate for Anne ArundelCounty executive. He was hired for a $77,710-a-year job in the Department ofNatural Resources.

Current and former officials said that Bissett tried to fire at least oneDNR employee without consulting DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks; lobbiedagainst an agency-backed bill; and openly derided the agency and Franks'leadership.

The episodes resulted in Bissett's removal from DNR, although he remainedon its payroll until early last month.

Bissett recently was assigned to work as a program manager in the MotorVehicle Administration's office of planning and finance at a salary of$80,570, according to state Transportation Department spokesman Jack Cahalan.

Through Massoni, the Ehrlich press secretary, Bissett declined requests foran interview about his new position.

Massoni rebuffed efforts to interview about a half-dozen members of the75-member executive staff for the governor's and lieutenant governor's officesabout their job descriptions and employment histories. He also declined toprovide their resumes.

Payroll records show that 75 people work directly for the governor's andlieutenant governor's offices, the same number as the previous administration.

The costs to staff the office under Ehrlich, as of payroll reports forearly last month, were running $5.1 million a year. That's an increase from$4.8 million a year at the end of 2002.

The biggest annual salary of $160,826 goes to Steven L. Kreseski, thegovernor's chief of staff. His predecessor, Eugene R. Lynch, earned the sameworking for Glendening.

Ehrlich and Steele are both drawing higher salaries than their predecessorsbecause of pay increases that took effect under state law.

Ehrlich draws a salary of $135,000 a year, compared with $120,000 forGlendening; Steele is paid $112,500 a year, while Kathleen Kennedy Townsendwas paid $100,000.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now