ANNAPOLIS – A new Cabinet-level agency may soon handle disability services, Gov. Bob Ehrlich said Thursday, but meanwhile, nominees for current Cabinet positions are just trickling in.
The new agency would collect state disabilities services into one department, assembled in a similar way to the new federal Homeland Security Department, he said in an impromptu news conference.
The federal department collected groups from various federal agencies in the same department, which will likely be housed in a new Virginia complex.
Ehrlich’s plans were vague, but he said the agency wouldn’t make it onto this year’s budget, unveiled Friday, but will be a part of next year’s fiscal plan.
As he moved into his new second-floor office in the State House, Thursday, the governor also said he would complete his Cabinet nominations by today, however, his spokesman said the information about them may not come until next week.
As of Friday, four key Cabinet spots were open at Natural Resources, Environment, Health and Mental Hygiene and Agriculture.
Ehrlich’s made no secret that he means to make significant changes in many departments.
“Most of those groups have had their own way completely for a long time, and other groups, who have equally legitimate views on their issues, have been marginalized,” Ehrlich said. “Because there’s been a change of administration and we won, there are obviously going to be some changes they don’t like.”
Ehrlich is the first Republican governor in more than 30 years. His Democratic predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, made environmental protection a key policy in his administration.
Under Glendening, hunting and gaming were “marginalized” at the DNR, Ehrlich said, indicating a possible change in their status.
DNR Secretary J. Charles Fox already announced his decision to step down. Dr. Georges Benjamin, of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stepped down last year.
“The only surprise is how slow they’re making their appointments,” said Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel. “He certainly has a right to put together his team and the Senate intends to work with the administration.”
It’s slowest naming of Cabinet members he can remember, said Jimeno, Executive Nominations Committee chairman.
Already, two top appointees have been challenged by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
Ehrlich appointed Delegate Robert Flanagan, R-Howard, to head the powerful Department of Transportation and James C. “Chip” DiPaula to head the Department of Budget and Management. Questions have been raised about their qualifications.
“There’s some issues raised and we’re still trying to work through those concerns,” Jimeno said. “The governor has a right to put together his team. If it doesn’t work out he’ll be held accountable.”
A hearing on some last-minute appointments by Glendening is scheduled for Monday; hearings on Ehrlich’s appointments begin Jan. 27. “If it should be of concern to anybody, it should be of concern to the new governor,” said committee member Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County. He’s “the person it’s going to hold up the most.” – 30 – CNS-1-17-03