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U-Md. official misunderstood advice to pull out of Hagerstown forum

September 12, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Douglas M. Duncan, a University of Maryland vice president, has apologized for saying that the governor's office ordered him to withdraw from a Hagerstown political event, according to a university statement released Thursday.

Twice during phone interviews this week, Duncan, a former Montgomery County executive and 2006 gubernatorial candidate, said he was told to drop out of a political dinner with former Gov. Robert Ehrlich or risk losing his job and projects he's working on.

However, P.J. Hogan, the University System of Maryland vice chancellor who urged Duncan to steer clear of politics now that he's not in office, said he offered advice, but he never claimed to be passing along a directive from Gov. Martin O'Malley's office.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said no one in his office knew anything about such a directive.

On Thursday afternoon, the University System of Maryland and the University of Maryland at College Park issued a joint statement that said Hogan gave Duncan advice about "making the transition from being an elected official to a nonelected state employee."

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"Duncan recognizes now that he misinterpreted informal advice from a friend and colleague as an official directive," the statement says. "Duncan has apologized to Hogan for the misunderstanding and takes full responsibility for the misunderstanding and the resulting confusion. They have shaken hands, put the incident behind them, and are continuing their work together."

Duncan was not in his office a few minutes after the statement was sent out. Duncan could not immediately be reached through university officials or at his home.

Hogan didn't return a call left on his cell phone.

Duncan, a Democrat, said Tuesday and Wednesday that he was told not to show up at the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce event with Ehrlich, a Republican, or his job could be in danger.

But Hogan said he was only urging Duncan to back away from politics because he now works for the state.

However, this week, University System spokesman John Buettner said Duncan would have been free to participate in the Hagerstown political event.

That's reiterated in Thursday's statement, which says "....USM and UMCP recognize and honor Maryland state employees' right to freely participate in any personal activity during time outside of working hours."

Brien J. Poffenberger, the Chamber of Commerce's president, said the event will continue as scheduled, although it's not clear who, if anyone, will take Duncan's place.

Ehrlich said Tuesday that he was looking forward to sharing a bill with Duncan, whom he likes, but would take part even if he's the only speaker.

The dinner will be at Duffy's on Potomac in Hagerstown. Tickets cost $60.

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