Maryland Secretary of Disabilities Kristen Cox turned to an unusual consultant two years ago when she wanted help improving employee relations at her rapidly expanding state agency: her father.
Cox, now the running mate of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), arranged for a company run by her father and stepmother to conduct a two-day retreat with agency employees in Baltimore. The Seattle company did not charge for its services but was reimbursed for expenses -- about $4,000, according to the governor's legal office.
Cox said she was careful to comply with procurement laws and sought advice from the governor's legal counsel in advance. "I recognize that doing business with your father's company, if you're going to do it, you've got to do it right," Cox said in a recent interview.
Several experts said the arrangement presents no clear ethical violations but raises questions. "In general, we would caution to be aware of appearances," said William G. Somerville, the nonpartisan ethics adviser to the General Assembly. "It creates an appearance of nepotism when you're hiring your own relative."
Ethical implications aside, one political analyst said the episode could draw attention to Cox's lack of government experience. Her position in the Ehrlich administration was her first in government. At 36, she is the youngest Cabinet secretary, and she oversees one of the smallest agencies, with 25 employees and a $5.million budget.
James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland and an Ehrlich supporter, said the risk is that Cox could become "something of a Dan Quayle figure."
"You run into the potential for her to have a gaffe problem that might come with inexperience," Gimpel said. "That's always a risk when you choose someone so young, who has never been under the kind of scrutiny she's now going to face."
Eric Rich and Matt Mosk
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