ANNAPOLIS — The Senate was poised this month to hand Gov. Larry Hogan’s planning secretary nominee a pink slip. Now, senators are aiming at her paycheck.
Hogan (R) withdrew his nomination of Wendi Peters as planning secretary this month after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee urged that the full chamber not confirm her.
Because Peters, a Mount Airy resident, continues to work as secretary despite an unfavorable Executive Nominations Committee report and the governor’s withdrawal, the Democratically dominated Senate approved language in the state budget to eliminate her salary, effective July 1.
The planning secretary’s salary is set at $137,749 in the 2017 state budget.
It remains to be seen if the removal of Peters’ salary holds up after the fiscal 2018 state budget plan goes back to the House, and then to a joint committee in which the two chambers agree on a final version.
Peters started in the cabinet-level post last July. Her nomination by the governor was subject to confirmation by the Senate this session.
A little more than a week ago, the nominations committee voted 11-6, recommending that the full Senate vote unfavorably on Peters’ nomination. That same night, Hogan sent a letter withdrawing Peters as a nominee.
Senators said Wednesday that Peters has remained in her position with no apparent changes, prompting the unusual amendment to the state’s budget.
Maryland allows a governor to make a recess appointment that is subject to a confirmation vote during the next General Assembly session.
If a recess appointment receives no vote during the session, the nominee can be reappointed as a recess appointment after the session concludes. However, in this case, Peters was a recess appointment and the Senate did not get to act because the governor withdrew his nomination of her before it was considered by the full chamber.
If a nomination is voted down on the Senate floor, the vote is effectively an immediate firing. Typically, when a nominee is withdrawn, a new nominee is put forward.
“I think, in the history of the state of Maryland, we have not seen such a situation,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore city, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee.
The language added to the state budget to cease the payment of a salary for nominees in Peters’ position — she is not explicitly named in the budget document — is necessary to make sure the committee’s duty of confirmation is honored, Ferguson said.
“Without this language, it would create a complicated constitutional problem where the governor’s withdrawal before the body has an opportunity to fulfill its constitutional duty creates a very real problem for the administration of government for Marylanders,” Ferguson said.
The Senate, in a party-line vote with Republicans opposed, adopted the amendment 33-14: “No funds in this budget may be expended to pay the salary of a Secretary or Acting Secretary of any department who was a recess appointment in 2016 and whose nomination as Secretary has been rejected by the Executive Nominations Committee, and whose nomination was withdrawn before the full Senate acted.”
Ferguson said earlier this month that the committee voted unfavorably on Peters’ nomination after hearing concerns from people close to or part of the Maryland Department of Planning who reported low morale and overmanagement in the office, along with complaints that the state’s previous planning priorities have been put on the back burner. Peters did not have the background necessary to sit for the exam to become a qualified planner and did not have experience managing a large department, Ferguson said.
On Wednesday evening, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Peters’ nomination was withdrawn because she didn’t get a fair hearing.
“You have a group of mainly old angry men working together to attack and demean a woman secretary appointed by the governor who they clearly don’t like for personal reasons,” Mayer said. “The whole episode ... was infused with sexism and double standards.”
Mayer said Peters continues to serve in the position. He hopes “cooler heads will prevail” regarding the amendment language when budget negotiators are working out differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.
Because the amendment is included in the state budget bill, it is only effective for one year. To permanently clarify the state’s language on withdrawal of executive nominees before an unfavorable vote, a constitutional amendment may be required.
Peters previously served as Maryland’s deputy planning secretary and on Mount Airy’s Town Council, Board of Appeals, and Planning Commission.