Governor creates jobs for his allies

Though he ran on a campaign to streamline state government after years of Democratic excess, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has quietly created new high-paying positions and layers of bureaucracy that, in many cases, reward legislative allies, campaign workers and others who helped him get elected, state payroll records show.

These new positions are among hundreds of other new hires that are expected when any administration comes into office - from Cabinet secretaries to policy advisers and clerical staff.

With this administration, the staffing turnover was compounded when only the second Republican since World War II took control of the governor's office and its considerable patronage powers.

"The turnover's more dramatic because they are dismissing people that [previous Gov. Parris N.] Glendening probably didn't feel like he had to dismiss when he took office," said James G. Gimpel, an associate professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park.

As of early last month, the governor had hired 124 people to state jobs paying $70,000 or more, according to payroll records. And more are going on the payroll with each passing week.

But beyond the expected replacements, Ehrlich is creating positions for political allies and contributors, even as the state struggles to bring a $1 billion budget shortfall under control and as deep funding cuts to the University System of Maryland and state agencies force administrators to explore layoffs, unparalleled tuition increases and cutbacks in services.

Some examples:

Malik Rahman, a longtime Baltimore political operative who had been a paid staffer for Ehrlich's campaign, landed a new $71,123-a-year job in the state Housing Department to "look at options" for financing housing projects.

Three new assistant secretary positions were created in the state's Planning Department that pay $66,884 to $80,312. The three people hired had campaigned for Ehrlich, one as a paid campaign staff member, the others as volunteers.

Tim E. Braue, a lawyer who headed President Bush's campaign in Maryland in 2000, was appointed to a new $90,270 position as special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. He said his main responsibility initially was to coordinate the department's Preakness events, but he also will be working to get more federal grants flowing into the state economic development agency.

Since taking office in mid-January, Ehrlich has found work for dozens of prominent Republican officeholders, former legislators or their wives or relatives. Some were hired for newly created jobs; others are filling positions that existed previously. How many have been hired into newly created positions is difficult to determine because some agencies have been reorganized and some jobs have been retitled.

Ehrlich's spokesman, Greg Massoni, said that the administration is proud of its hiring decisions. In reorganizing state government to make it more efficient, Massoni said, the administration is cutting many positions even as it adds others.

"There are not just political thank-yous on that list," Massoni said. "It's not business as usual. We have looked for the brightest and best and that's who we've gone after, regardless of party affiliation."

He pointed out the appointment of people such as former Democratic Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. as secretary of the Juvenile Services Department and others to other prominent positions.

However, some appointments have had clear political overtones.

For example, a waiver was granted to circumvent an existing hiring freeze to hire Julie S. Madden, wife of Ehrlich political adviser Martin G. Madden. She was appointed the director of arts and community outreach in the Department of Business and Economic Development. She was an art history major in school, served as a trustee of Maryland Citizens for the Arts and was on the board of the African Art Museum of Maryland in Columbia.

Massoni noted that the state's annual payroll costs overall are down "well over $500,000" since Ehrlich assumed office, largely because many positions are left unfilled as they become vacant. The state employs about 108,000 people, including those working for colleges and universities, and has an annual payroll of $5.3 billion.

Government policy experts say it is normal for any new administration to want to bring in as many of its people as it can. A new governor has to put into key positions people who will be loyal and who can be counted on to execute his policies, said Gimpel, the University of Maryland professor.

"Loyalty is even first over experience and competency," Gimpel said. "You want all three, but loyalty is the first."

Referring to Ehrlich's appointments, Gimpel said, "It may be that they don't have as much experience but what they bring to the administration is loyalty and the trust of the governor who wants these agencies ultimately to be responsible to him."

But others are critical of Ehrlich for drawing so heavily from the ranks of legislators and others in the political world to fill state positions.

"They have made a lot of political appointments but they are forgetting that in addition to loyalty there has to be competence," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat

Generally, he said, past governors have teamed their political appointees with professional staff "who are able to make the trains run on time."

Shuffling personnel

One of Ehrlich's more controversial hires early in his administration was ex-Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV for a $92,049- a-year job in the Housing Department.

Mitchell, who headed the Democrats for Ehrlich campaign committee, had been reprimanded by the General Assembly's ethics commission last year for failing to disclose a $10,000 loan from three businessmen with issues before the legislature. His appointment prompted a public outcry, and he was forced to resign two weeks after taking the state job.

Since then, Mitchell's top aide, Zachary L. McDaniels, who also helped in Ehrlich's campaign, has been appointed to an $80,570-a-year job as Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's deputy chief of staff.

Although he works in Steele's office, McDaniels' salary is paid out of the Department of Natural Resources budget, payroll records show. McDaniels refused interview requests about his duties.

Massoni said the Ehrlich administration is following a longtime practice of borrowing - authorized state positions from other departments to meet its staffing needs.

Like Mitchell and McDaniels, Rahman also helped Ehrlich campaign in predominantly African-American and Democratic Baltimore.

Campaign finance reports show that Rahman was paid $12,888 by Democrats for Ehrlich.

"I was field coordinator and my job was to go out and get votes," said Rahman, who holds a criminal justice degree from Coppin State University.

Rahman said his role in the Housing Department's neighborhood revitalization division is to "look at options outside of the box" to help finance housing development projects in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Remaking an agency

At the Planning Department, three new assistant secretary positions were created as part of an agency reorganization designed to make the department run more smoothly, an agency spokesman said.

But others familiar with the agency said the hires added a new level of bureaucracy that didn't exist under Glendening.

The positions are held by Tom W. Rimrodt, Aaron N. Tomarchio and Stephen S. Hershey Jr.

During Ehrlich's campaign, Rimrodt, whose salary is now $80,312, had been a paid deputy to the political director, Joseph M. Getty. Getty, a former delegate, is now a top aide to the governor with a salary of $120,000 a year.

Rimrodt, who also was a city manager for a small California town, oversees three divisions in the Planning Department with about 50 employees.

The two other new assistant secretaries direct other divisions of the agency. Both said they did volunteer work on Ehrlich's campaign.

Tomarchio, who is paid $66,684 a year, had been a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton in suburban Washington.

Hershey ran unsuccessfully last fall for a seat on the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. A former vice president of project management services for a real estate firm, Hershey is paid $74,301 in his new state job.

Chuck Gates, a spokesman for the Planning Department, said the new layer of bureaucracy was an outgrowth of talks with agency workers, who complained that the department lacked a unified vision and leadership.

"The decision made was that we needed to put in a layer of policy-oriented leadership that can help direct the overall mission of the department," Gates said.

Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott, a former Prince George's County Council member, chose as her deputy secretary Betsy Burian, who was her council legislative aide. Burian is paid $90,270 a year. The position had been held previously by a career department employee with degrees in management and planning.

Scott also has hired a $33,399-a-year executive assistant whose duties include sometimes serving as her driver.

Despite the new positions, Gates said that the Planning Department is operating with seven fewer people than it had as of mid-November because some people who have left have not been replaced. He said the agency has about 125 positions.

Job searches

Some of Ehrlich's political appointees have followed tortuous paths before finally finding a place to land.

Robert Banks Jr., the general manager of a BMW dealership who says he raised more then $50,000 for Ehrlich, was in line to replace the well-regarded Anne S. Ferro as head of the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The decision infuriated a number of legislators from both parties - who praised her reforms at the MVA - and Ferro was allowed to keep her position. But Banks still went on the state payroll, as special assistant to the transportation secretary at a salary of $110,276 a year.

Banks said that he led the agency's efforts to work with Baltimore City officials on snow removal efforts during this winter's major snowstorm in February. "We kept the buses running; we were right in the operations center," he said. He said he also has been involved in the reorganization of the Maryland Transit Administration.

Another appointment to draw critical attention was that of Phillip D. Bissett, a former legislator and unsuccessful candidate for Anne Arundel County executive. He was hired for a $77,710-a-year job in the Department of Natural Resources.

Current and former officials said that Bissett tried to fire at least one DNR employee without consulting DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks; lobbied against an agency-backed bill; and openly derided the agency and Franks' leadership.

The episodes resulted in Bissett's removal from DNR, although he remained on its payroll until early last month.

Bissett recently was assigned to work as a program manager in the Motor Vehicle Administration's office of planning and finance at a salary of $80,570, according to state Transportation Department spokesman Jack Cahalan.

Through Massoni, the Ehrlich press secretary, Bissett declined requests for an interview about his new position.

Massoni rebuffed efforts to interview about a half-dozen members of the 75-member executive staff for the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices about their job descriptions and employment histories. He also declined to provide their resumes.

Payroll records show that 75 people work directly for the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices, the same number as the previous administration.

The costs to staff the office under Ehrlich, as of payroll reports for early last month, were running $5.1 million a year. That's an increase from $4.8 million a year at the end of 2002.

The biggest annual salary of $160,826 goes to Steven L. Kreseski, the governor's chief of staff. His predecessor, Eugene R. Lynch, earned the same working for Glendening.

Ehrlich and Steele are both drawing higher salaries than their predecessors because of pay increases that took effect under state law.

Ehrlich draws a salary of $135,000 a year, compared with $120,000 for Glendening; Steele is paid $112,500 a year, while Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was paid $100,000.