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Board defers plan to cut jobs at Department of Public Safety

After an unusual confrontation between top state officials and employees whose jobs they want to eliminate, the Board of Public Works decided Wednesday to send Gov. Larry Hogan's job-cut plan back to the state's prison and parole agency for a second look.

The board voted 3-0 to defer action on a proposal by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to eliminate 67 positions in its human resources department.

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Public Safety Secretary Stephen T. Moyer presented the move as part of his mission to clean up the type of corruption in his department that led to a national scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Hogan announced plans last month to close the state-run jail immediately; the last detainees were transferred this week.

Since the administration announced the planned cuts July 14, its officials have portrayed the human resources operation as a failed bureaucracy that was responsible for hiring many of the two dozen correctional officers who were convicted in the jail corruption scandal.

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Moyer said the human resources functions need to be streamlined and centralized. When the full plan is implemented, he said, the net loss of jobs will be 37.

But the public works board — Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Hogan — hesitated to act after Moyer and department officials acknowledged that many of the workers at risk of being fired had no connection to corruption and had no input into hiring or firing decisions.

"This is a process. It's not an attack on any individual person," Moyer told the panel. "I'm not here to eliminate or remove jobs for the sake of removing jobs."

But Kopp and Franchot, both Democrats, put up their first united show of resistance to the Republican governor as they pressed Moyer on how his plan treats employees.

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"People are getting caught in the crossfire," Kopp said.

"What is happening here is a clear case of scapegoating," Franchot said.

Hogan and Moyer came face to face with two of the workers whose jobs are targeted when Emily Eubanks and Theresa A. Custer came up to testify.

"How did we get put in this corruption?" said Eubanks, a 63-year-old human resources worker in the office of parole and probation in Reisterstown. That office wasn't caught up in the jail scandal.

"It's not a function of you," Hogan told her.

At one point Moyer and Eubanks came to the microphone together so that the secretary could explain why her job was on the line.

"We will do everything we can to work with you," Moyer said. But the secretary told the board that the attorney general's office had ruled the department could not give laid-off employees preference in hiring for new jobs that open up.

Custer, a 23-year employee who works at Jessup in an agency that wasn't linked to the scandal, noted that the governor had called the detention center a "black eye" for the state. When her human resources work is linked with corruption, she said, she feels the stigma personally.

"It is like having a black eye," she said.

Sue Esty, legislative director of AFSCME Council 3, said the way the administration has portrayed the reductions would make it difficult for laid-off employees to find new jobs.

"They're giving all these employees a collective bad reference," she said.

Franchot moved to defer action until the next meeting in three weeks to give the department time to come up with a better plan.

"The governor has the right to run his own agencies," he said, but he believes the wrong employees were being fired.

Hogan seconded the motion.

A spokesman for Hogan said the governor had directed the department to get together with the attorney general's office to see what can be done for the employees. Spokesman Doug Mayer said Moyer would also reach out to the union to seek its ideas.

"The governor was moved and impacted by what he heard today," Mayer said.

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