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Lawlah to join Cabinet

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to name the heads of four state agencies today, including a former state legislator - the first he has tapped for a new administration full of state government veterans.

O'Malley's picks stand in stark contrast to the hiring habits of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who frequently turned to current and former legislators and their spouses for top administration posts. Even his appointments secretary had been a legislator.

Instead of culling the General Assembly, O'Malley has picked over the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening for managers - including today's expected pick for the Department of General Services, Alvin C. Collins, who was chief of staff for Glendening.

O'Malley also announced yesterday that another Glendening alumnus, Ronald L. Freeland, will head the Maryland Transportation Authority. He headed the Maryland Transit Administration under Democrat Glendening, as well as other transportation jobs.

Other O'Malley nominees have experience in local governments or from other states. O'Malley's expected nominee for Business and Economic Development, David Edgerley, held a similar post in Montgomery County, and his choice for the Department of Juvenile Services, Donald W. DeVore, directed a similar agency in Connecticut.

The governor's pick for the Department of Aging, former state Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a fellow Democrat, is the first legislator that O'Malley has hired for a job of any kind since taking office three weeks ago.

"The governor said he would appoint experienced, effective managers, and that is what he has done," O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said.

Ehrlich appointed former legislators to eight of the 21 slots he got to choose in his Cabinet. Another slot was filled by the spouse of a legislator, as was the top spot in the Department of Homeland Security, a non-cabinet agency. Lawmakers served as Ehrlich's first Insurance Commissioner and in two seats on the Public Service Commission, including the chairmanship.

Deputy secretaries of transportation and health and mental hygiene were legislators. The head of the Critical Areas Commission was a lawmaker, as was the administrator who ran Maryland's commuter rail system was a former legislator. The secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority was the wife of a former legislator. The heads of Ehrlich's legislative and policy office had also served in the General Assembly.

Many of Ehrlich's appointees were the governor's friends from his days in the legislature, and as the first Republican governor in a generation, he didn't have the luxury O'Malley has of picking over his predecessors' administrations.

Ehrlich "had a very short bench to choose from," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat whose chamber approved all but one of Ehrlich's nominees.

Some of Ehrlich's picks - former Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr., for example - built up expertise in the agencies they were asked to manage while in the legislature. But legislators don't necessarily have experience administering large organizations, and some agencies suffered from management problems.

The long-beleaguered Department of Human Resources, for example, managed by former state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, was heavily criticized for housing foster children overnight in a Baltimore office building, for delays in implementing a $67 million computer system and for problems in recruiting and retaining social workers. And the Department of Juvenile Services was repeatedly criticized by independent monitors for violent incidents in its institutions.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who heads the executive nominations committee, said some legislators turn out to be good managers - especially those who have administrative experience in their day jobs. But O'Malley has taken his time and made sure to find people with extensive backgrounds in government administration, she said.

"Where they have an opportunity, they bring in a known quantity, someone who has had the office in the past and who has shown ... to be adept in working with both the General Assembly and the prior governor and the public," Kelley said. "It's a much more cautious process than I expected."

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland, said some legislators are good managers and some aren't. He said he thought Ehrlich had a "wonderful" Cabinet.

"Former legislators bring a wealth of experience, so that's a positive," O'Donnell said.

O'Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore before being elected governor, did look to the legislature for his first personnel move, tapping then-Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County as his running mate. The lieutenant governor is now in charge of preparing the state for an influx of military jobs, as well as policy regarding higher education and other issues.

Lawlah, a former teacher who retired from the Senate last year, said she's excited to serve in an agency that helps the fastest-growing segment of the state's population. She said she is eager to help low-income seniors, many of whom are minorities, to make sure they don't have to choose whether to pay for their medications or their utility bills.

"Maryland is an expensive state," Lawlah said. "It is also a wealthy state, and we can afford to help our seniors."

With 59 employees, the Department of Aging is the second-smallest agency in state government. In choosing Lawlah, O'Malley replaced another former legislator, Jean W. Roesser, who served under Ehrlich, and passed over former Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who headed the O'Malley transition team that looked into the agency.

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