Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asked legislative leaders yesterday to abandon their probe into his personnel practices and instead join his administration in an examination of the state's hiring and firing.
"If you really want the best for the state of Maryland and its citizens, I suggest that the three of us work together to establish a bipartisan commission spanning the legislative and executive branches of government," Ehrlich (R) wrote in a letter to the state Senate president and House speaker.
The four-page, sharply worded letter also accused Democratic lawmakers of ordering up the legislature's first formal investigation in three decades as "an attempt to challenge the ethical and legal integrity" of his administration.
Legislative leaders dismissed the letter yesterday as posturing at a time when the probe into Ehrlich's firing of more than 284 employees is about to begin. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the governor's complaints ring hollow.
"This is not a time for crybabies," Miller said.
The governor's letter marks the latest volley in a series of sharp exchanges that appear aimed at shaping the public's opinion of the looming personnel investigation.
Democrats said yesterday that they view the probe as largely a policy review -- to determine whether state workers are adequately protected from shifts in the political winds. "It is not an attempt to embarrass the governor," Miller said.
In radio interviews and in letters written by his general counsel and released by his press office, Ehrlich has characterized the investigation as a crass attempt to strike a blow against him as his 2006 reelection campaign gets underway.
Ehrlich's letter raised in the sharpest detail yet his objections to the probe. He contended that the Democrats' justification for an inquiry has shifted several times, that the opposing party merely wants to highlight the complaints of disgruntled former employees and that those fired employees are represented by lawyers with close ties to the Maryland Democratic Party.
He also took aim at specific members of a special committee as being too biased against him to work objectively.
Busch defended the committee members, calling them "basically individuals who are not partisan but problem solvers."
The reasons given for convening the probe have evolved. Lawmakers first considered it in February, after newspaper reports detailed complaints by state employees about the way Ehrlich had identified workers for discharge.
Legislators said they were particularly concerned by accounts of Ehrlich aide Joseph Steffen, who had set a grim reaper figurine on his desk and told co-workers he was drawing up lists of those disloyal to Ehrlich to be fired.
A second aide, Greg Maddalone, was reported to have made similar claims while displaying in his office a T-shirt from television's "The Apprentice" that said, "You're Fired!"
More recently, Democrats have said the probe will focus on a quirk in the law that created 7,000 "at will" positions within the state workforce, technically giving any governor authority to hire and fire as he pleases, for any reason.
Miller and Busch said yesterday that nothing in the governor's letter would change the legislature's approach. Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who co-chairs the committee, said she expects to hold the first meeting in two weeks. "Until then, I just hope everyone can keep a level head," she said.