Less than 24 hours after a special panel approved new rules governing the use of state helicopters and planes by Maryland officials during non-emergencies, Gov. William Donald Schaefer quietly reversed the panel's action.
OC Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, as chairman of the Maryland Execu
tive Helicopter Advisory Committee, would have had final say over who could use the state's air fleet for so-called VIP flights.
Schaefer's aides say the governor rescinded the rules last week because he was not able to participate in the decision-making process.
But other State House sources say Schaefer saw the panel's decision as a power grab by Steinberg because the new rules would have shifted authority over the flights from the governor's personal staff to Steinberg.
Under the new rules, even Schaefer would have had to ask Steinberg for permission to use a state aircraft.
Schaefer's order, which may have made the new rules the shortest-lived ones in memory, is seen as evidence by some observers that the relationship between the governor and his second-in-command remains strained, despite recent attempts by Schaefer to downplay their problems.
The rules, which were adopted July 2 and reversed a day later, were intended to apply to use of the 15 helicopters and two planes in theState Police aviation division and the one helicopter and one plane belonging to the Department of Natural Resources.
Beyond medical emergency and law enforcement flights, the fleet can be used to shuttle Maryland officials on approved state business trips. Such flights are rare because most officials prefer to travel around the state by car.
Steinberg says there is no evidence that use of the air fleet has been abused by state officials.