A team of state auditors is conducting a comprehensive management analysis of the Maryland Racing Commission's practises and policies.
Reacting to what one state official called "the very poor commission, the inquiry was ordered by Acting Gov. Blair Lee.
The administrative audit, expected to be completed by alte July, is being conducted by the Budget Department in Annapolis. This week that department presented a 10-page work plan to William A.Urie, secretary of the Department of Licensing and Regulation who requested the audit.
Under state law, the racing commission falls under the jurisdiction of his department. Under former Gov. Marvin Mandel, the commission was "more or less autonomous," according to Urie and racing industry sources.
"It would be wrong to call it an investigation or a probe," said Urie. "It is strickly a management situation Mr. Lee wants to bring it back within the framework of this department."
Sources close to the commission and the governor said Lee politically wants to erase "any stink" over the horse-racing industry in the state. A racetrack scandal led to the criminal conviction of Mandel on political corruption charges.
The impetus for the management analysis included several items Urie said he thought warranted the attention of the acting governor. One involved a man obtaining harness-racing driver-trainer and owner licenses using a false name and faked Social Security and U.S. Trotting Association license numbers.
Urie compared the close scrutinythe racing commission will undergo to consulting firms hired by private industry to analyze a company's strengths and weaknesses.
"If anything needs to be corrected over there," Urie said, "after we see the (auditors') report, we'll see where we are going."
"As I understand it," said Ben Schwartz, chairman of the Harness Racing Board, "it will be an overall analysis of how they can revise, update and regulate things in the best interests of the public.
"We have no objections whatsoever (to the audit)," said Bob Banning,Chairman of the Throughbred Racing Board. "Once in a while administrative review is good for any department within a department...
In others words, it's good business.
"Look for ni great change in what our authorities will be. I know of noreal criticism beyond what's been in the newspapers."
According to he budget department's work plan the management analysis will cover every activity at the Maryland tracks from the licensing of employees and track operators to possible conflict of interest of the commissioners.
One reform already has taken place. James Callahan, executive secretary of the racing commission, now reports to Gordon N.Wilcox, coordinator of administration for DLR, as all other executive directors and secretary in the department do.
Previously, Callahan had been answetable only to the commission chairman, appointed by the governor.
On the record, there are at least two recent cases of possible conflict of interest among the commissioners.
At the Mandel trial, Helen Polinger, widow of the late racing commissioner Milton Pollinger, testified that her husband's appointment had coat Pollinger some money. Later she said her husband paid thousands of dollars in political contributions to receive the commission appointment.
In another instance, a former facing commissioner was found to be an officer in a bank that lent one race track group more than $1 million.