By Len Lazarick
A high-ranking Ehrlich administration official and former Republican candidate for Howard County Council has filed an ethics complaint against Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and County Council Chairman Calvin Ball.
Diane Wilson says Ulman and Ball used their offices to get her fired as the lobbyist for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce after serving just a week in January.
In an interview, Wilson, 60, said she was “outraged” at the political interference after she had persuaded chamber officials she could influence people she had opposed politically.
Wilson served as deputy secretary of the state General Services Department under Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. She ran against then-County Council member Guy Guzzone, now a member of the House of Delegates and an ally of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, this year’s president of the Maryland Association of Counties.
In a detailed letter of complaint to the commission, Wilson says that she was hired over another candidate who had been proposed by Ball, and started work Jan. 10. She said Ball then contacted the chamber and said Wilson was “too political” and involved in recent Republican initiatives, which Wilson denies.
Wilson also said Ulman called the co-chair of the chamber’s legislative committee to express his “displeasure” and say the county’s legislative delegation “will not likely work with [her]” due to a “hostile campaign” she ran against Guzzone in 2002.
CLARIFICATION: According to Wilson’s complaint, the chamber also contacted Guzzone, and Wilson was told that he said “it would be difficult to work with me due to the ‘hostile campaign.’”
All these second-hand accounts of phone conversations could not be confirmed with the parties involved.
After initial support from the chamber board, Wilson said she was told by Chamber President Pamela Klahr on January 14 that “things had not died down” and “I was asked to resign.”
Jennifer Sager, who staffs the county Ethics Commission, said, “I cannot confirm or deny if a complaint has been received.” But explaining the process in general, Sager said: “During the pendency of a complaint, all proceedings relating to a complaint, including a preliminary inquiry following the filing of a complaint, hearings, meetings, and activities of the Commission and its staff in connection with the complaint are confidential.”
Kevin Enright, a spokesman for Ulman, responded in an e-mail: “According to the County Code, complaints filed before the Ethics Commission are confidential until a final decision has been reached by the Commission. Obviously, we will follow the Code, and therefore we are not allowed to comment at this time.”
County Council Chairman Calvin Ball said in an e-mail, “I haven’t seen an ethics complaint,” and did not comment further.
Pamela Klahr, president of the chamber, declined to comment since “it’s a personnel matter. We don’t comment on a personnel matter.” But Klahr did confirm that the chamber had employed Wilson and she resigned.
Wilson said in an interview that “it is not right that elected officials use their prestige of office to interfere with the employment of a private citizen.”
The ethics section of the Howard County code forbids officials from using their “prestige of office” to benefit themselves or others.
Wilson said the position was a part-time job and way to “reconnect with the business community,” after her service in the state and federal government.
In addition to her race against Guzzone and her service in the Ehrlich administration, Wilson had also worked in the 1990s as an aide to Republican Howard County Council member Dennis Schrader, who last year lost a race to reclaim his seat. Schrader has also lost a race for county executive to Jim Robey, now a state senator.
This would not have been the first time the Howard County chamber had employed a former Ehrlich administration official to serve in the government affairs position. Lee Wildemann, who had served as an aide to first lady Kendel Ehrlich and a lobbyist for the General Services Department, held the position until last fall.