On government time and stationery, a state employee wrote Eastern Shore ministers this month urging them to publicize Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "courageous" stand against casino-style gambling in Maryland.
"We need you to write letters to the press applauding the Governor's courageous stand," Len N. Foxwell, a staff member in the secretary of state's office, wrote in the Dec. 6 letter.
The letter has dismayed some legislators and the head of a citizens watchdog group, who say the wording sounds more like campaign literature than governmental correspondence.
"I think this is an inappropriate use of state personnel time to be advocating legislative positions," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland. "This looks like activity that would be better handled out of a campaign office."
Del. Robert H. Kittleman, minority leader in the House of Delegates, accused the governor of using the secretary of state's staff to further his 1998 re-election efforts.
"I think it's really wrong," said Kittleman, a Howard County Republican.
Fueling the criticism is the fact that Maryland's secretary of state, John T. Willis, is also the governor's chief political strategist. Glendening appointed Willis to the post upon becoming governor.
The secretary of state's office handles ceremonial and administrative duties, but normally does not get involved in major state issues such as casino gambling.
Willis said that he had not seen Foxwell's letter before it was sent out but that he saw no political intent. The letter was mailed to only 16 ministers, and those who received it were already strongly opposed to gambling, Willis said.
The letter was simply an attempt to make sure people on the Shore knew about the governor's stated position and to encourage them to stay involved in an important issue, he said.
Glendening's press secretary, however, said after being shown the letter that some of the wording was inappropriate.
"From the governor's point of view, this issue is not about the governor; it's about the kind of legacy we're going to leave," said Judi Scioli. "The governor would have preferred the focus to be on the issue, not on him."
As for why a staffer in the secretary of state's office was getting involved in gambling policy, Scioli said that Foxwell, as a resident of Easton, has often been tapped to assist Glendening on Eastern Shore issues.
Foxwell accompanied the governor when he met with the ministers last summer, Willis said.
Foxwell could not be reached for comment.
The governor has said he opposes bringing casinos or slots to Maryland and pledged to veto any legislation that would do so. He recently made clear his opposition to a proposal for letting Dorchester County voters decide whether to allow a major casino development in Cambridge.
In his letter, Foxwell included statistics about the impact of gambling in other states and the addresses of three Eastern Shore newspapers.
"If you need any additional information, or if any members of your congregation need sample letters to get them started, please do not hesitate to call me," Foxwell wrote.
Pub Date: 12/18/96