Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s appointments secretary took aim yesterday at the state senator who has been leading the charge in an investigation of alleged personnel abuses by the Republican administration.
Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. told Baltimore area radio listeners that allegations of political firings by the Ehrlich administration amounted to "a witch hunt" and should be blamed on "bogus rumors" started by Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) and Baltimore lawyer Daniel Clements.
The charge was the latest in a series of derisive statements by Hogan about the legislature's decision to examine complaints by dozens of longtime, mid-level state employees who say they were fired because they were Democrats.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Frosh said Hogan's remarks represent the latest effort by the administration to whitewash history in the Ehrlich-friendly confines of WBAL radio, where they are not likely to be challenged.
Take, for instance, his assertion that the personnel allegations originated with Frosh. In fact, the allegations surfaced in connection with Joseph Steffen, the former longtime Ehrlich political aide.
Ehrlich fired Steffen after the aide admitted playing a role in an effort to spread rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. (O'Malley is among the Democrats seeking to unseat Ehrlich in 2006.) Steffen also told his colleagues that he was drawing up lists of disloyal Democrats to be fired.
Frosh said he believes the legislature has a "firm foundation" for investigating the governor's personnel practices. But he fears the inquiry could be disrupted by "rhetoric" coming from Hogan and others in the Ehrlich administration.
In a letter written Oct. 12 to the legislative committee investigating the allegations, Hogan called the probe "a relentless, orchestrated, taxpayer-financed smear campaign against the Ehrlich administration."
O'Malley Rocks On, and On
Martin O'Malley (D) has gotten a good deal of grief lately -- much of it from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan -- for continuing to perform in his Irish rock band months after what was widely seen as a retirement announcement.
Last week, the gubernatorial hopeful was back at it, fronting O'Malley's March at a benefit concert in Baltimore for hurricane relief.
In a message posted on the band's Web site in March, O'Malley said that "all good things must come to an end, and I wanted to let you know this will be my last St. Patrick's season."
Aides said the announcement was widely misinterpreted as a stoppage instead of something more akin to a slowdown.
"The mayor does not have as much time for the band now, but they play on rare occasions, like Thursday's Hurricane Katrina relief concert," campaign manager Jonathan Epstein said.
A musician who shared the bill with O'Malley at the show seemed perturbed about the questions coming from Duncan -- also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate -- and others.
Kelly Bell, frontman of the Kelly Bell Band, welcomed O'Malley to the stage with this (somewhat presumptuous) exhortation: "Allow the governor to be in his . . . band!"
High Office Doesn't Mean Highest-Paid
A list of the highest-paid Maryland state employees shows Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s $145,000 annual salary ranks him 12th, behind his health, budget and transportation secretaries, as well as his chief of staff, Chip DiPaula Jr., who takes home $174,374. But even DiPaula is a mere seventh.
The highest-paid state employee, according to state records, is Robert R. Bass, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, who makes $227,519 annually. He's followed by the new port administrator, F. Brooks Royster III ($225,000) and David Fowler ($201,210) of the state medical examiner's office.
Nowhere near the top is Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who by statute is paid $120,000 a year. For the record, that means he is ranked 61st.