A restructuring of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development turned into a small-scale purge this week, as 16 officials were dismissed and the agency's international division was set to lose its status as a separate division.
The largest single move in the reorganization is a shift of the department's division of employment and training, along with 1,200 workers, to the Department of Licensing and Regulation. The new Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will take over running unemployment insurance programs as well as research functions studying the state's economy.
The changes came days after DEED Secretary James T. Brady stressed in a speech that the department needed teamwork to be more effective in attracting companies to Maryland and in keeping growing businesses in the state.
"It's just so hard -- just the way it was done," said one of the dismissed employees, who said DEED's staff had no notice that the reorganization would include major staff changes.
Mr. Brady defended the way the restructuring was handled yesterday. "It was clear, and it was timely, and that was the way I chose to do it," he said.
Marilyn Corbett, the agency's spokeswoman, said the 16 positions have not been abolished, leaving open the possibility that people will be hired to fill them. However, she said it is likely that some of those positions would be "rearranged and reworked" for different functions.
Kiagu C. Kamiru, acting director of the Maryland International Division, said senior agency managers dismissed members of his staff without consulting him.
After his staff confronted him, Mr. Kamiru said, he learned that he too was to be fired. "I am not bitter about this, but I am angry at the way it was done," he said.
He said the dismissed employees worked to help Maryland companies find export opportunities, marketed the state as a branch location to offshore companies and managed "sister city" relationships with municipalities abroad.
Mr. Brady said merging the functions of the international division into the broader marketing division, which is responsible for wooing both U.S. and non-U.S. companies, does not signal a retreat from pursuing exports and foreign investment. The merger is to take place July 1.
"This is in no way a diminution of the status of the international division," Mr. Brady said. "It's going to get the same attention. It is purely intended to bring all our marketing efforts under one banner."
As part of the reorganization, most of the agency's communications staff was dismissed. Ms. Corbett, the agency's deputy communications director, had already accepted a post as deputy press secretary to Gov. Parris N. Glendening before the cuts were made.
Spared, for the time being, was Lalit H. Gadhia, former finance chairman of the governor's 1994 campaign.
Mr. Gadhia took an unpaid leave from his $80,000 a year post as deputy DEED secretary for international economic affairs last month, after a report in The Sun questioned whether he had broken federal laws in raising money for a political action committee that promotes the interests of Indian-Americans.
"He is on unpaid leave right now," Mr. Brady said. "He is a special case. . . . It will be dealt with at the appropriate time, but it is a totally different matter."
After the transfer of 1,200 workers to the new Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Mr. Brady's agency -- renamed the Department of Business and Economic Development -- will have about 250 employees.
Mr. Brady said in a statement that the smaller, more sharply focused department will "enable us to focus better on our customers -- every company located in Maryland today and every other company that we would like to bring to Maryland."
Reaction to merging the international division into the marketing division was mixed yesterday.
"Maryland's international division worked incredibly well and I think was a real asset to the state," said Carolyn Donohue, president of Baltimore-based Waverly International, a unit of medical publisher Waverly Inc., which does 40 percent of its business outside the United States.
"There are definitely differences between marketing domestically and marketing internationally. And you need specialists to work on that."
But James Hughes, executive director of the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, applauded the move.
"Creating artificial distinctions between domestic and international doesn't apply these days," he said. "It's really just doing business."