Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office has called on state employees to staff the polls for him on Election Day, generating criticism from his Republican opponent and a dispute over a memo circulated in one agency asking for lists of names of volunteers.
Schaefer's campaign staff phoned state Cabinet secretaries asking them to organize employees who wanted to work, said Schaefer special assistant Pam Kelly. She said the calls were in response from numerous requests from employees who wanted to volunteer.
The calls were meant only to tell people how to participate, not pressure them into doing so, she said.
But last week, a letter circulated to the 1,200 employees of the State Transportation Authority said the governor's office had asked that a list be prepared of which employees planned to help hand out Schaefer's campaign literature on Election Day.
"If none of your employees are interested please so indicate," authority press officer Thomas E. Freburger wrote in the memo to other authority managers.
"Putting that into a memo was entirely inappropriate," said Schaefer spokeswoman Louise Hayman. "It was someone who wasn't thinking clearly."
"This is a serious abuse of office," said Schaefer's Republican opponent, William S. Shepard.
Maryland law guarantees state employees the right to engage in partisan politics, but also protects them from pressure to participate, said Assistant Attorney General Jack Schwartz.
According to one sergeant who oversees toll collectors at a state bridge, the call to arms was not well received. "One or two complained . . . . Nobody volunteered," the sergeant said.