Two of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s key cabinet members received unanimous approval from the Maryland Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee on Monday night.
The committee vote comes at a turbulent time for both the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
The transportation department, under former leader Pete K. Rahn, has drawn ire from some lawmakers over Hogan’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 and for the cancellation of a major transit project in the city of Baltimore.
In Maryland’s prisons, staff members have been forced to work overtime and say a shortage of about 1,000 correctional officers is leading to dangerous working conditions.
Hogan nominated State Highway Administrator Greg Slater as transportation secretary in December and Robert L. Green as secretary of public safety in April.
“These are people that know what goes on in their agencies from the bottom up,” Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington) said of the men, who both have long careers in state and local government.
Green started his career as a correctional officer in Maryland in 1985 and most recently headed Montgomery County’s corrections department for 18 years.
He was met with few questions by committee members on Monday evening, but has appeared at multiple briefings in his brief tenure about staffing concerns in the department.
On Friday, Green addressed an anticipated $150 million budget for overtime in the Department of Corrections for the 2021 fiscal year.
“We face some very critical staffing needs,” Green acknowledged Monday. But he said the Hogan administration has committed to new recruitment and hiring processes over the last nine months to fill positions, with more than 600 correctional officers hired last year and more than 50 hired so far this year.
Other key priorities as secretary will be to improve pre-trial services in the city of Baltimore, complete a new re-entry facility there and improve data collection in the department, Green said.
Serafini said Green came into the position at a tough time, “but that’s the thing I love about Rob Green: He’s not afraid of a challenge.”
Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County) introduced Slater, who once worked as a surveyor for the state government, as “virtually a lifer” within the Department of Transportation.
Slater noted that he is the nominee to become the state’s 16th transportation secretary ― and that he’d worked for six of the secretaries to come before him.
He was greeted at the hearing with a long list of concerns and lines of questioning, which had been piled on committee Chairman Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick).
Young asked Slater to address those issues in opening remarks to the committee, including concerns about transparency around the I-270/Beltway road-widening proposal, his views on transit versus road projects and the state’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.
Slater committed to increased transparency with local governments involved in the Beltway project, said comprehensive land-use planning and incentive programs are key to managing greenhouse gases and told committee members that his views on transportation start with people.
“It has to start with people and end with people. It’s about a system that has to work together,” Slater said. “Transit is a big part of that system.”
Slater was also asked how he views his role as a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and responded that the state wants to be sure a new stream of $167 million in dedicated funding from Maryland is spent wisely and to the greatest benefit of Marylanders.
“A healthy WMATA is a healthy region,” Slater said.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford and Baltimore County) told Slater that he was concerned about a lack of customer service within some Department of Transportation offices.
Slater told the committee that he would do all he can to foster an environment of openness, collaboration and good relationships.
“Every interaction, I try to change people’s impression of government employees,” Slater said.
The nominees head to the full Senate for confirmation votes as soon as this week.