Maryland’s planning secretary has been moved to a different post — with a similar salary — in an attempt to resolve a confirmation standoff.
The former planning secretary, Wendi Peters, has not been paid since July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
But Gov. Larry Hogan’s office confirmed on Friday that she’s been newly appointed by the governor as special secretary of smart growth in an attempt to restore her pay and health benefits.
General Assembly lawmakers removed the salaries of Peters and state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader from the state’s current budget after Hogan (R) announced he would keep them in their positions — without the required confirmation from the state Senate.
Peters will remain a member of the governor’s Cabinet and will report directly to him in the new position. Robert S. McCord, who was an assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning, has been elevated to acting secretary.
The governor’s office said moving Peters to an entirely new position was necessary in part to restore her health benefits.
“Wendi Peters has served the state courageously over the last three months without pay. And the simple fact of the matter is that she’s a cancer survivor who needs to be able to pay for her treatments,” Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer said Friday. “... Senate President [Mike] Miller, Attorney General Brian Frosh, Treasurer Nancy Kopp are the ones responsible for this outrageous and morally disgusting situation that Secretary Peters has been forced into. And they should all be ashamed of themselves.”
Kopp — a Democrat appointed to her position by the Legislature — stopped the processing of the secretaries’ paychecks in July, in line with advice letters from the office of Frosh (D). The attorney general’s office concluded that it was legal both for the governor to reappoint Schrader and Peters after lacking confirmation and for lawmakers to strip their pay in the next fiscal year.
Miller (D) and other senators said during the General Assembly session that Hogan’s intent to keep Peters in her position without confirmation amounted to an end run around the state constitution and the Senate’s role to offer advice and consent on high-level appointees.
Hogan withdrew his appointments of both Peters and Schrader during the General Assembly session, only to reappoint them after legislators left the State House. Peters received a negative committee vote on her appointment, while Schrader’s nomination was withdrawn before any vote at all.
Schrader recently picked up an additional title — acting deputy secretary of Medicaid at the Department of Health — in an effort to restore his pay, but that has not happened, Mayer said.
“The treasurer still is refusing to pay him,” Mayer said.
Schrader continues to hold the post as health secretary simultaneously.
“He’s the secretary, he will remain the secretary,” Mayer said. “And he’s doing so tremendously without pay. In the midst of a national health care debate. I think that shows where our priorities are and where the Senate president’s priorities are.”
Miller’s office said Friday that they would not respond to partisan attacks and offered no comment on the recent developments.
A spokeswoman for Frosh said Hogan could have averted the current spat over salaries altogether.
“Governor Hogan has been in control of this process from the very beginning. He cannot circumvent the Senate confirmation process,” spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said. “If he truly cared about the former health secretary’s health care, he would have moved her into another position months ago.”
Asked whether the governor’s office bore some responsibility for the secretaries’ lack of pay, Mayer said that move rested squarely on the shoulders of Miller, Kopp and Frosh.
“We have absolutely zero responsibility for the budget language. We didn’t put it in there,” Mayer said. “The attorney general has said that these folks are legally serving in their positions. Therefore, the state has a legal obligation to pay them. Senate President Mike Miller, Attorney General Brian Frosh and Treasurer Nancy Kopp are making the proactive decision to not pay them. Because that’s what they want to do.”
In August, Peters and Schrader filed a lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court seeking to compel Kopp to pay the salaries and asking the court to rule on the lawfulness of the General Assembly’s budget restriction. The case remains pending.
Mayer said Peters’ new salary is in line with her previous pay as planning secretary: $137,749. “It has been indicated to us that she will now be paid,” Mayer said.
Schrader’s budgeted salary is $174,417.
Susanne Brogan, deputy treasurer for public policy, said the treasurer’s office is seeking new legal advice before the state’s current pay period ends on Tuesday “to advise us whether it would be legal to pay [Ms. Peters] going forward.”
Brogan also responded generally to Friday’s comments from the governor’s office.
“The treasurer has always acted with a focus of performing her legal responsibilities and duties and that we have acted on the advice of the attorney general which, up until now, had been that it would not be legal to pay Ms. Peters and Mr. Schrader,” Brogan said. “And it has not been a personal vendetta of the treasurer. The treasurer has been carrying out her legal and constitutional duties and will continue to do so.”
The personnel shifts were first reported Friday by The Daily Record.
Peters previously served as Maryland’s deputy planning secretary and on Mount Airy’s Town Council.