The Cold War between the Schaefer administration and the legislative auditors who are supposed to keep tabs on it has turned hot again.
This time around, Secretary of Licensing and Regulation William A. Fogle Jr. has charged that a state auditor misrepresented himself when he inquired about reviewing the department's personnel records.
But William S. Ratchford 2nd, head of the General Assembly's Department of Fiscal Services, said the flap is the result of a minor misunderstanding and is being used to make it difficult for his auditors to do their job.
Fogle said his staff personnel chief received a telephone call Monday from someone who identified himself as an employee of the state Department of Personnel. The caller, Fogle said he was told, wanted to look at confidential files relating to the department's unclassified employees.
"The individual led him to believe that he was part of the Department of Personnel," Fogle said yesterday. "Actually, he was part of the Division of Audits."
The confusion was cleared up a couple days later when Fogle's office received a follow-up letter identifying the caller as an auditor with the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services. The letter also stated that routine audits of unclassified employee hirings were beginning in several state departments.
Fogle said he was concerned that a state auditor would intentionally
misrepresent himself to gain access to private files.
Ratchford denied that any misrepresentation took place and said his auditors do not mislead people about who they are or what their job is.
"This crap that he impersonated someone from the Department of Personnel . . . I just know my people and they don't do that," he said.
Anthony J. Verdecchia, Ratchford's chief auditor, said he believes the flap arose from a misunderstanding.
"They've indicated we didn't identify who we are and that's inaccurate," he said. "[Fogle's] people didn't quite understand our people."
Audits are part of the state's system of checks and balances. Auditors who work for the legislature routinely check the books and operations of state agencies, who report to the governor. Frequently, auditors' reports are embarrassing to the administration.
Although the system of audits has been in place for years, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has complained about what he called the "Rambo-style" tactics of the auditors.
During the last legislative session, Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. complained that auditors were looking at his office files without permission. That prompted criticism from Schaefer, who said that Fiscal Services was working to make his administration look bad.
Later, auditors said that when they tried to begin a routine examination of files on the Governor's Mansion, they were refused access.
At one point, Schaefer ordered his department heads to be less cooperative with auditors and demanded that they provide written questions in advance. The attorney general rejected that demand but said auditors should tell agencies in advance what records they want to review.
Ratchford described the latest rift over the misunderstood phone call "just part of the on-going harassment that makes it hard to get information."
Verdecchia said he has talked with Fogle in an effort to bring the discord to an end.
"I think it's resolved," he said. "I think it's a non-issue right now."