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Correctional officers back Ehrlich's plan

February 24, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

More than 100 correctional officers descended on the capital Thursday to lobby for pay increases and other benefits Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced last month.

Ehrlich put the pay increases, along with funding for an additional 75 correctional officers statewide, in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2007, which begins July 1.

He also earmarked $15.5 million to make the pay increases retroactive to Jan. 1.

The correctional officers spent Thursday meeting with legislators to let them know they wanted the pay increases despite a budget analysis that recommended dropping the retroactive pay, reducing overtime pay and deleting the new positions.

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By the end of the day, local correctional officers and their supervisors said they believed the legislators were listening to them, and they were hopeful the funding would be approved.

"I think everyone we talked to seemed to understand us and support us," said Roderick Sowers, warden at Maryland Correctional Training Center. "It comes down to priorities."

After meeting with Ehrlich and Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the officers met with legislators prior to attending a hearing on the Division of Correction's budget before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Ehrlich gave them a short primer on lobbying.

"Personalize your experience," he said. "Tell them how you go about your daily business. Create a memory." He encouraged them to make sure they talked to legislators on the proper committees - but he didn't stop there.

"Take your time to talk to the press," Ehrlich said.

At the hearing, officers discovered they weren't alone in wondering why the budget analysis recommended cutting the retroactive pay. No explanation had been given, and subcommittee Chairman Joan Cadden directed her staff to find out why.

After hearing a defense of the DOC budget from Saar and other corrections officials, Cadden gave the officers plenty of time to speak.

Capt. Richard Romano of Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown told the subcommittee the pay increases were necessary to make correctional officer positions competitive. Even when vacancies are filled, some new officers don't stay long, he said.

"On my shift, we might get seven or eight at a time from the (training) academy. But within a month or so, two or three are gone," he said.

Mandatory overtime is assigned seven days a week to fill the gaps, he said.

"Mandatory overtime means you're staying, no ifs, ands or buts," he said. "The morale is the lowest I've seen in my 23 years here."

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