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Maryland's personal probe

May 10, 2003

The administration of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, fresh from a legislative session in which its chief revenue initiative failed because of inept tactics that puzzled even close supporters, has decided that it's a good idea to more closely monitor employees' personal lives.

If there's evidence that state employees are misbehaving on a grand scale, let's see it, please, before the state spends money the taxpayers don't have poking into workers' private lives.

Under an executive order signed earlier this month, any employees who are involved in a legal proceeding of any kind would have to inform their supervisors. This includes everything from divorces to civil lawsuits.

A second part of the order would require complaints about state employees or contractors for the state to be reported to the governor's office as well as to the state's attorney general.

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And where's the evidence that all this additional reporting is needed? Jervis Finney, Ehrlich's chief counsel and a former U.S. attorney, was vague about that in an interview with the (Baltimore) Sun.

Though Ehrlich's order says that "instances of prior questionable conduct, identified during transition, and thereafter, have arisen and continue to arise, event to the present time," Finney wouldn't elaborate.

Are we talking about serious corruption, or someone stealing office pencils? Both are wrong, but we believe the taxpayers should know what they'll be paying for. And they will pay.

Paper will only be the first expense. Staff time will be required to review incidents and then to decide whether action that would normally be initiated by the attorney general's office would be sufficient.

So far the unions are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward all this, but aside from the cost, there's an issue of privacy as well. Should being a state employee force you to relinquish details of your private life?

Finney argues that any legal proceeding is a public proceeding, but what is the state's legitimate interest in knowing who has filed for divorce, or is suing someone who rear-ended them in traffic?

Criminal arrests, yes, should be disclosed to one's employer. But we await some justification that all this is really necessary, as opposed to someone's desire to be nosy.

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