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DLLR secretary takes heat for removing report

Gov. Martin O'Malley

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s labor secretary said Tuesday it was his idea to seek the removal of all online traces of an internal economic report that he said was mistakenly posted on the department’s website.

Alex Sanchez, the secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said O’Malley did not ask him to pull the report or make it disappear without a trace online. Sanchez said the department mistakenly posted an internal document on Aug. 20 that was to be used as part of the process of writing a report to be released on the website.

“We have protocols for what is posted on the Internet, and they were not followed in that case, and once we found that out we corrected,” Sanchez said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The document, which began by saying “Maryland’s Market Stalls During July,” cited reports of uncertainties in financial markets, declining consumer confidence and spending and lackluster hiring at the national level as a reason for explaining that “Maryland’s economic recovery faltered in July.”

The posting of the internal document prompted officials in the department to scramble once they and other administration officials learned of it.

On Tuesday, Sanchez described the internal document as material that is used for discussions within the department before it puts out a monthly statement on its website about employment numbers in the state.

An e-mail on Aug. 20 from labor department spokesman Bernie Kohn to labor department staff titled “labor market fiasco” asked if the staff members were sure that taking down the post “removed all traces of it that anyone could pull up on a search engine?”

“Whatever we can do to make it disappear, we need to do it,” Kohn wrote. “That’s coming straight from the top.”

Sanchez said he was the person Kohn was referring to — not O’Malley.

“That’s referring to me and me only,” Sanchez said.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who is in a rematch with the Democratic incumbent, made public a series of e-mails Monday that were sent by department officials between Aug. 10 and Aug. 20. The e-mails were obtained through Maryland Public Information Act requests. The Associated Press also has acquired the e-mails.

Ehrlich’s campaign contends that the e-mails demonstrate that the O’Malley administration was softening a gloomy economic outlook to portray Maryland’s economy in a more positive light in a tough election year.

In response, O’Malley’s campaign said Ehrlich is playing a “desperate blame game with economic statistics.” O’Malley’s campaign is emphasizing a longer view, contending that Maryland has had the best job growth in a January to August period in Maryland since 2000.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Audrey Scott called on O’Malley to ask Sanchez to resign.

Ehrlich, in an interview Tuesday, said that the flap is an example of the labor department being “a broken agency.”

“That’s been the feedback from the small business roundtables that we’ve been attending for eight months now,” Ehrlich said.