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Ehrlich receives warm reaction to announcement

January 14, 2006|BY TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN -

Reaction to Gov. Robert Ehrlich's announcement Friday of a package of salary increases and bonuses for correctional officers was swift and mainly favorable.

"We've had a hard time recruiting and retaining people. This makes us very competitive and helps build morale," said J. Michael Stouffer, warden of the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown. "The impact's been very positive."

"It was a great step forward," said Larry D. Kump, president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association's public safety noncustody employees chapter. Kump said he hoped the increases would "stop the exodus" of correctional officers from the Hagerstown prison complex.

"We're so pleased that the governor is moving in the right direction," Kump said.

"This was our first pay raise other than (cost-of-living adjustments) since 1990," said Capt. Dave Rizer, an officer at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown.

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As for reaction from fellow correctional officers, "from what I've heard, it's very positive," the 19-year officer said. "It benefits our pensions and will help us fill vacancies." Rizer estimated there were about 15 vacancies among the approved positions at MCI-H.

Kump said he realized that "it's hard to squeeze money out of the budget," but that he was "gratified" by the governor's salary announcement.

"I think this empowers us," Kump said. "Correctional officers have felt disempowered, disrespected and abused ... we're so heartened that the governor has taken a personal interest in this."

Even with the pay package, some expressed ongoing concern about staffing levels and management issues.

"There's a myth that the problems in the Division of Correction are limited to Western Maryland," Kump said. "That's not true."

Kump said he feared some correctional officers were so embittered they would say the governor's announcement was an election-year gesture.

But he said, "I think this is a real opportunity to work on some of these issues and I don't think we ought to throw it away." "There's still a staffing problem, but that's before the legislators," Rizer said.

Ehrlich's package "is not a cure-all, but it's a big step forward," Stouffer said. "Concerns, they're there in every job. We got good news today and we want to enjoy it."

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, praised the governor's announcement, but said they still are lobbying Ehrlich's office for a resolution to staffing and other concerns.

"I think the governor's announcement today goes a long way to correct something that's needed to be corrected for a long time," Myers said. "I think it's been long overdue." He said he's anxious to see Ehrlich "address other issues that are on the table."

Shank said the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly had a commitment from Ehrlich's office to continue working on prison staffing.

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