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Ehrlich says economy caused prison employee shortages

December 14, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County correctional officer jobs have gone unfilled because of the economy, not poor policy, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Wednesday during a free-ranging group interview with reporters.

With the state's unemployment rate at about 4 percent - roughly considered "full employment" - it's difficult to find people to fill jobs, Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich, who lost his re-election bid to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, spoke with print reporters at a question-and-answer lunch Wednesday at the State House in Annapolis.

O'Malley, a Democrat, will be sworn in Jan. 17.

Asked about correctional officers' lingering distrust of the state's public safety hierarchy, Erhlich said, "Clearly, there was some union issues."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' Council 92, which represents correctional officers in Washington County and elsewhere in Maryland, endorsed O'Malley in the gubernatorial election.

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Correctional officers at Washington County's three state prisons have complained that inadequate staffing makes their jobs more dangerous.

Two state correctional officers died while on duty this year, including Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten of Martinsburg, W.Va. In January, an inmate Wroten was guarding at Washington County Hospital allegedly shot and killed him.

Ehrlich said Wednesday that the state tried to attract new officers with bonuses and higher pay, but a healthy economy and competition for employees makes it tough.

In a summary of Washington County benefits under Ehrlich, his office reported that correctional officers' pay went up 20 percent and the state added 21 correctional officers in Western Maryland.

Much of Wednesday's lunch session focused on Ehrlich's political views and connections, as well as his plans after leaving office.

The governor, who has held a state or federal office since 1987, said he hasn't decided on his next job. He wouldn't speculate on whether he'll run for office again.

Ehrlich said he's been approached by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Republicans said to be considering running for president.

Ehrlich said he'll likely give speeches across the country, offer political advice and do charity work.

The (Baltimore) Sun, with whom Ehrlich feuded during his time as governor, was not invited to the press lunch. Greg Massoni, Ehrlich's deputy director of communications, said only newspapers that endorsed Ehrlich were invited.

The Herald-Mail was among those papers that endorsed Ehrlich. The Sun endorsed O'Malley.

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