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Hogan moves Peters out of planning role, into new job

Gov. Larry Hogan has moved one of the two Cabinet secretaries who have been serving without a salary because of a turf battle between the governor and the General Assembly into a position where she will be paid.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Friday that Planning Secretary Wendi Peters, whose pay was cut off July 1 in a dispute over Senate confirmation powers, was reassigned as special secretary for smart growth.

Her pay will be $137,750, roughly equivalent to her former salary as secretary.

Peters is one of two Hogan Cabinet secretaries who failed to win confirmation this year. The payroll status of the other — acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader, who still is serving without salary — remains in limbo. Mayer said he remains in his job and has no plans to leave it.

Peters’ new job does not require confirmation, unlike the planning secretary post. The Senate refused to confirm Peters’ nomination to the planning role this spring amid complaints from Democratic leaders that she was unqualified and had mismanaged the department while serving as acting secretary.

Mayer said Peters, a former Mount Airy town council member who joined the administration after Hogan’s 2014 victory, would continue to attend the Republican governor’s Cabinet meetings in her new role. Robert S. McCord, the department’s assistant secretary for operations, was named acting planning secretary.

The move may help Peters financially, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying constitutional conflict about whether the governor can disregard the Senate’s decisions about whether his top appointees are suited for their jobs and keep them on with full pay and powers. That dispute may need to be resolved in court.

The spokesman said the administration tried weeks ago to restore Schrader to the payroll by naming him to another position in the department while he retained the powers of the secretary. Mayer said State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp refused to go along.

The General Assembly included a provision in its budget cutting off the salary of any Cabinet official whom Hogan kept on after failing to win confirmation. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued an opinion that the cutoff was within the legislature’s power, and Kopp stopped paying them.

Mayer said Peters is a cancer survivor who faces burdensome medical costs and can no longer serve without pay. When she was removed from the payroll, she also lost state health insurance.

Mayer blamed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Frosh and Kopp — all Democrats — for Peters’ inability to continue in her role.

“Miller, Kopp and Frosh are all directly responsible for this really outrageous and morally reprehensible situation that’s been created here and they should all think long and hard about their actions,” Mayer said. “Hope they’re happy.”

Raquel Guillory Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, said the governor has been in control of Peters’ pay status since the beginning of the conflict.

“He can’t circumvent the Senate confirmation process,” Coombs said. “If he was concerned about her health, he could have appointed her to another position back in April.”

Susanne Brogan, a spokeswoman for Kopp, said it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s spokesman found “the need to blast the treasurer.” Brogan said Kopp had engaged in no vendetta against Peters but followed the advice of the Attorney General’s Office that paying her would not be legal.

Brogan said Kopp would consult with the attorney general on whether it was now legal to resume paying Peters.

“Assuming the attorney general says it is, we’ll be glad to pay Ms. Peters,” she said.

A spokesman said Miller would have no comment.

Peters and Schrader have a pending lawsuit against Kopp seeking restoration of their pay. Timothy Maloney, an attorney for the two officials, said the suit will continue, seeking Schrader’s reinstatement to the payroll and back pay for Peters.

Miller has said repeatedly Schrader could have won confirmation if Hogan had agreed to withdraw Peters’ nomination. The Senate president said she lacked qualifications to be planning secretary and harmed the department’s morale after Hogan named her to succeed former Secretary David Craig.

Peters’ appointment was rejected by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, which also delayed a hearing on Schrader.

After the committee recommended against Peters’ confirmation, Hogan withdrew both nominations. Mayer charged at the time that the panel’s action on Peters was tainted by sexism. After the legislative session ended in April, Hogan reappointed both to their posts — setting up a constitutional struggle.

Frosh issued an opinion saying that Maryland’s Constitution allows the governor to reappoint officials after they have been rejected by the Senate.

But the attorney general said the legislature’s budget powers permit it to withhold salaries from such appointees.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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