Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. suggested yesterday that the General Assembly abandon its probe into his administration's firing practices and instead work with him on a bipartisan study of state personnel law.
Such a commission of legislators, administration officials and outside experts is the only way to "ensure a fair and impartial process that has the confidence and support of all Marylanders," Ehrlich said, and avoid the partisan rancor that has developed around the legislative inquiry, which has yet to begin.
But legislative leaders said they could not take seriously an offer that came at the end of a four-page letter filled with denials of misconduct and accusations against legislators, after weeks of heated rhetoric from the governor and his aides.
They said reports that the Ehrlich administration fired long-time, midlevel employees because of their political affiliation must be investigated.
"It's more governor crybaby," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. "I'm just embarrassed that the governor of Maryland would send out a letter like that. ... If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Nobody is trying to embarrass him. All we're trying to do is look at the problem."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said convening a committee independent of the administration is the only way to give state workers confidence that their concerns will be fairly investigated.
"There's a pattern and practice that's in place that's been gleefully done by this group," said Busch, referring to the reported firings. "That leaves no other recourse for state employees to go to other than an independent legislative review."
Both Miller and Busch said they believe in the integrity of the members they appointed to the committee and will not change them.
In a letter addressed to the two Democrats, Ehrlich restated complaints about some of those members that have been made in recent weeks by several administration officials, principally Jervis S. Finney, the governor's chief counsel.
In a series of letters and fax messages, Finney has accused investigation committee members Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, of publicly judging Ehrlich guilty of misconduct before seeing any evidence.
Ehrlich said in his letter that he would participate in a "legal, fair and objective inquiry," but said that such an investigation is impossible if biased members remain on the committee.
"Failing [to remove them] will demonstrate your intentions to use hearsay, misstatements and false representations to try to malign this office," Ehrlich wrote.
Ehrlich Communications Director Paul E. Schurick said Frosh, Hollinger and Del. Galen R. Clagett, a Frederick Democrat, would need to be removed. They have accused the administration of guilt before hearing evidence and/or taken campaign contributions from lawyers representing disgruntled former employees, Schurick said.
"If they're on there, this committee has no credibility, and nobody can pretend it does," Schurick said.
Frosh and Hollinger have said they are willing to make fresh conclusions based on the evidence they hear. Clagett, who has not previously been publicly accused by the administration, could not be reached for comment last night.
-- To read Ehrlich's letter, go to www.baltimoresun.com/letter.