Black leaders in the Maryland General Assembly became engaged in a sharp dispute with Gov. Harry Hughes yesterday over the governor's attempt to fire Josie Bass, one of his three black advisers.
Bass, the top executive aide on social service issues, recently had a falling out with other key aides to the governor and had been asked to leave her post by the end of this month. The other aides, according to sources, complained to Hughes that Bass was a poor administrator and spent too much time in her role as NAACP president in Prince George's County.
Angered by the administration's move against Bass, who is a close associate of Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's), two leaders of the legislature's black caucus marched into Hughes' office yesterday afternoon and asked that she be reinstated.
According to Sen. Robert L. Douglass (D-Baltimore), a participant in the meeting, Hughes made no promises except that he would meet privately with Bass to discuss the situation.
"We expressed our concerns," said Douglass. "It's a delicate situation."
One black leader who did not attend the session with Hughes called the Bass dismissal "a blow to the governor's affirmative action programs statewide."
But Douglass and Sen. Clarence Blount (D-Baltimore), the other representative at the Hughes meeting, were less critical, noting that Hughes was the first Maryland governor to appoint several blacks to major positions on his staff.
Bass, who has worked for Hughes for a year at an annual salary of $28,292, was informed of her dismissal by Ejner Johnson, the governor's chief of staff, shortly before Christmas, and planned to leave work at the end of January, sources said.
She was elected president of the Prince George's NAACP last spring after William Martin, the former president, was removed by the group's executive board for independently negotiating a plan to curtail the country's busing program with school board Chairman Norman H. Saunders. Since then, Bass has repeatedly been in the center of county political issues.
Last spring and summer, she gained attention by leading opposition to plans by the school board to reduce busing. And last month, Bass was seen as a crucial behind-the-scenes force in the County Council's rejection of Executive Lawrence Hogan's nominee for police chief, James R. Taylor.
Hughes' aides were unhappy with Bass' growing public prominence and apparent preoccupation with Prince-George's issues, sources said.
As Hughes was comtemplating the reorganization of his staff, chief of staff Michael Canning and other aides presented a list of complaints about Bass. They alleged, for example, that Bass had a backlog of 60 unanswered phone calls , and that she had failed to properly respond to and file her correspondence.
Canning would say little about the reported personality conflict between himself and Bass, noting that he had hired her, "and supported her all the way through."