Cronies out of the State House


Back from his summer vacation, Gov. Parris N. Glendening didn't waste time before putting an end to the embarrassing performance of two cronies he brought with him from Prince George's County. Both labor and licensing secretary Frank W. Stegman and personnel secretary Michael J. Knapp had become liabilities to the governor, who announced their resignations Friday.

What precipitated the move was a "good ole boy" arrangement that has no place in State House affairs. First Mr. Stegman hired Mr. Knapp's wife for a $36,000-a-year job that should have been filled through competitive civil service exams -- and got approval to circumvent the law from Mr. Knapp himself. Then Mr. Knapp recommended a $10,000 salary boost -- up from $100,542 -- for Mr. Stegman, and tried to sneak it through without legislative approval. How convenient.

Lest we forget, these two men, along with chief of staff Major Riddick, were the ones who set up a lucrative pension plan for Mr. Glendening and his aides in Prince George's that led to six-figure severance packages when the group departed for Annapolis. Public outrage quashed that arrangement.

The pension furor poisoned the atmosphere for Mr. Glendening in Annapolis. When Messrs. Stegman and Knapp did it again, it was inevitable that the governor had to cut his losses, or risk serious damage to his image.

There is no place in government for this type of behavior. Contravening civil service procedures. Hiring a fellow crony's wife. Arranging a fat pay raise as a payback. Ignoring the obvious conflicts of interest.

The governor was right that the two men's actions had become a distraction for him as he tries to set an agenda for the next six months. Mr. Knapp's credibility was so seriously eroded that efforts to overhaul and revamp the state's personnel system could not get off the ground. And Mr. Stegman's plans to implement regulatory reforms to cut red tape, streamline the bureaucracy and save money had been badly undercut.

The only way to get on with the administration's program was to make a clean sweep and bring in well-qualified replacements. That should be completed by early next week.

Let this be a warning for the governor and his top aides. What may have been permissible in Prince George's County won't work in Annapolis. The public deserves, and expects, better from its top state leaders.

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