O'Malley balks at Ehrlich's job picks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mayor Martin O'Malley accused the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday of trying to appoint a man convicted of public corruption as the chief of city social services, an agency that critics have said needs reform since the torture death of a 15-year-old girl.

O'Malley said he was disturbed in May when the Ehrlich administration asked him to approve the governor's selection of Arnold R. Tompkins to direct the city office of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

This was despite a guilty plea by Tompkins, former Ohio state welfare director, in November 2001 to two misdemeanor counts of having an illegal interest in a public contract after he was accused of directing millions of dollars to a company he later received work from.

Now O'Malley, who shares responsibility with Ehrlich for appointing the head of the city branch of the state agency, said he is angry that Ehrlich is trying to push through another candidate, Floyd R. Blair, without the city's participation in a search.

O'Malley said yesterday that he will veto Ehrlich's Sept. 2 selection of Blair, a New York native who recently worked as associate director of a faith-based social services program under the Bush administration.

The mayor said he is not going to approve the selection because he feels Ehrlich's picks show that he is not doing a thorough search for the new director of a much-troubled social services agency. Demands for an overhaul have come from many quarters since the death last year of Ciara Jobes, who was beaten and starved while in the care of a guardian who got custody after the department of social services stood by silently at the hearing.

"I will not have on my conscience the death of another child like Ciara Jobes because of this slipshod method of picking a head for this agency," O'Malley said. "This traditionally has always been the mayor's choice to pick this official, and I would like to conduct a search and pick my choice."

A state welfare spokesman, Norris West, said he was unsure whether Christopher J. McCabe, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, knew about the conviction before his nomination of Tompkins. West said the Tompkins nomination is irrelevant now that the state has a candidate, Blair, who "is clean as a whistle."

The dispute over the appointment of Blair flared up during a state Board of Public Works meeting yesterday.

During the meeting, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer asked McCabe whether the state could hold up money for social services in the city until the mayor agrees to Blair.

"The mayor wants to be heard because he disagrees with my decision and I've agreed to hear him out, but I like my choice," Ehrlich said.

McCabe said it was clear that the governor has the power to appoint Blair on an interim basis, and Ehrlich said state lawyers are researching whether he has the authority to make a permanent appointment after simply consulting the mayor.

A Sept. 2 press release from the state said O'Malley had "cooperated" in selecting Blair. "I would hope that is a typo, because if they meant to say I concurred in the selection, it's a baldfaced lie," O'Malley said.

Sun staff writers Michael Dresser and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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