The number of Maryland state workers fired from their jobs spiked the year Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took office, according to new data released yesterday by the special committee investigating the administration's personnel practices.
"What we're seeing is that they jumped off the charts with the number of people that were terminated," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who co-chairs the committee.
Republican members of the committee said they found nothing startling in the numbers, given that their party had not controlled the state's top elected office in 36 years, and had every right to clean house.
"Maryland residents were expecting this administration to come in and say, 'I want new people with a fresh agenda and new ideas,' " Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (Somerset) said.
According to the data, the Ehrlich administration terminated 207 employees who had served at the pleasure of the governor in 2003, four times the number Parris N. Glendening (D) fired in 1995, his first year in office.
The numbers contradict statements made in June by top Ehrlich aides, who told reporters that the governor dismissed fewer employees than his predecessor.
At the time, the administration was hearing complaints from former employees who said large numbers of mid-level workers had been dismissed, possibly for political reasons.
"Past administrations went in immediately and fired about the top two or three hundred people in state government," Appointments Secretary Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. said in an interview in June. "We are the first Republican administration in 40 years. You'd think we'd want to make some changes. . . . What we did was about 10 percent of what the previous administration did when they came in."
Lawmakers reviewing the personnel figures yesterday said they were particularly concerned by the number of mid-level managers and "skilled service" workers who were fired under Ehrlich. These were not policymakers, they said, but experienced employees whose job it was to carry out the policies of the new administration.
"These are the folks who actually run the departments," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery). "We're losing them at an alarming rate."
The number of those terminated is not a large percentage of a state bureaucracy that includes more than 6,000 employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor. Many more left voluntarily, and legislative analysts said yesterday that it is impossible to know how many of those who resigned were forced out.
"We know the administration had a policy of telling employees that, if they resigned, they would get a neutral referral," Frosh said.
The release of personnel numbers came during a three-hour hearing yesterday in which the committee also heard from Ward B. Coe III, the attorney hired to oversee the probe. Coe told the committee he had reviewed complaints from 29 employees and was planning to interview 19 of them in person.
Already, he said, he has interviewed a former Ehrlich aide and a current staff member who, early on, figured prominently in the controversy over his personnel policies. One was Joseph Steffen, the former political aide who worked in three state agencies and said he was compiling lists of people to fire to make room on the payroll for the governor's loyalists.
Coe said that on Monday he interviewed a second aide, Greg Maddalone, who was reported to have made similar claims while displaying in his office a T-shirt from television's "The Apprentice" that read, "You're Fired!"
He said he expects to bring his first witnesses before the committee to testify Dec. 13.