The director of a special state office for coordinating services to the handicapped submitted a fiery letter of resignation to Gov. Harry Hughes today, saying his bureau had become a "joke" under Hughes' administration.
Richard Dunne, described by friends as a committed activist who grew increasingly uncomfortable inside the Hughes administration, said he had not been able to meet with Hughes in two years to discuss his duties and charged that the governor and his staff had wasted his office's resources and $95,000 annual budget.
"There's been an absolute lack of support or direction -- I've been relegated to a flunky status," said Dunne, whose office was created four years ago as a part of the governor's staff to provide a direct liaison with social service groups. "Nobody has tried to understand what this office is supposed to be doing. And this administration is just missing the boat in terms of getting the best use of its services for the disabled at a time when it needs to most because of fiscal cutbacks."
Hughes' press secretary, Gene Oishi, said Hughes was "somewhat surprised" by Dunne's resignation because "Dunne has participated in several meetings in the governor's office and he never mentioned these concerns." Oishi added there was no thought of dismantling the office.
Some state officials suggested today that Dunne's frustration typified the plight of advocates for social services in the state government at a time when money is short and programs are being cut back.
"This kind of frustration happens to all of us when we put on our advocacy hat," said Stanley Platman, the assistant secretary for development disabilities in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "But sometimes you have to put on the reality hat. Dick's been very involved with our department and when we tell him there's no money to do something, if he interprets that as unresponsiveness, it's a shame."
Dunne's office for the coordination of services for the handicapped was created by the legislature because it was felt there was a need for someone in the governor's office to monitor services that are currently spread over various state departments. "He is also a ligthning rod for all the citizens and community groups, and it's not an easy job," said Del. Frank Pesci (D-Prince George's), who helped create the office.
Dunne, who was appointed by former governor Marvin Mandel, contended that he had been a victim of the "turf battles and total failure of communication in Hughes' office."
"At least under previous governors I knew what I was dealing with," he said. "Here you never know what is going on -- what the policy is. I have tried to get through with every one of the inner circle of Hughes' office for the last two years. But they've just blocked him away from me."
As an example, Dunne said that he had submitted a report to Hughes' office nearly a year ago saying there was an urgent need for the governor to establish a firm state policy on the question of what free state services should be provided to the families of disabled citizens. Although he briefed two members of the governor's staff on the issue, he said, he never received a response to his report and no action was ever taken.
"I think they expected me to just sit here and take my paycheck and accept the situation," Dunne said. "But I couldn't do that."
Although some legislators said they agreed with Dunne, Hughes was defended today by several lawmakers who have actively supported programs for the handicapped. Sen. John J. Bishop (R-Baltimore County), while saying he could understand Dunne's frustration, said Hughes has been "very sensitive and very responsive" to the handicapped, but has dealt with the issue directly rather than through his liaison.
"The governor does things this way," Bishop said. "Now that you mention it, I just realized that I haven't talked to Dick Dunne in many months about these problems." But, he said, he has had considerable access to the governor.