ANNAPOLIS – A state commission led by former Gov. Marvin Mandel is quietly working to restructure state organizations – ranging from police departments to environmental commissions – by eliminating overlapping functions.
The commission assembled Thursday in an unpublicized Annapolis meeting to review its work.
“We’re coming down the stretch now,” Mandel told the commission. “Three months is not a great deal of time to do what we’re doing,” Mandel said later.
The panel expects to present a preliminary report to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Nov. 13 and a final document by Dec. 8.
Consolidation targets may include training and purchasing offices of the state’s 36 distinct police agencies, three separate programs to prevent lead poisoning and a multitude of agencies dedicated to protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Ehrlich has considered merging the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment since last year, said Ehrlich Press Secretary Henry P. Fawell. That plan is still on the table, but not a high priority, Fawell said.
The commission made little effort to notify the public of its three meetings to date, Mandel admitted, but reporters and constituents who showed up have been allowed to stay.
“It’s curious that they haven’t publicized their meetings,” said Sue Esty, lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92. “I’m really curious as to why they feel this need to have an air of secrecy around their activities.”
Ehrlich created the Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government in August to look for “wasteful practices and duplication of services” in state agencies and to recommend changes. Four subcommittees studying law enforcement agencies, environmental programs, independent agencies and adjudicatory functions comprise the commission.
Commission members include public officials and business leaders, and each subcommittee has met about eight to 10 times, Mandel said.
The commission’s only public hearing is set for Oct. 23, Mandel said, and it won’t make any decisions until then. Speakers must notify the commission by Oct. 20.
“You’d be amazed, in my office, the phone calls we’ve had,” Mandel said, about constituent contacts.
Many callers said they believe the commission’s goal is to restructure all of state government, Mandel said. But the goal is to look at the four areas outlined, he said.
Mandel directed Ehrlich’s press office to handle all inquiries about the commission, but he’s given little information about its activities or meetings to that office, said Fawell.
The press office will handle promotion for the commission’s public hearing, Mandel said, with official notification going out within days.
Union representatives said they feared the commission would use its goal of efficiency as a cover for privatizing parts of state government, but Esty said she was “pleasantly surprised” to find herself agreeing with many commission findings.
Examples included state agencies’ overreliance on paper forms, rather than computers, and a proliferation of separate agency personnel departments, which Esty said can lead to unequal treatment among groups of state employees.
“I was surprised to find things like that that we’ve been supportive of for a long time,” Esty said.
The commission will consider cutting jobs but has no mandate to do so, Mandel said. Its focus is on increased efficiency and public service, he said.
Ehrlich’s order creating the group, however, says it was formed in response to state budget crisis.