Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Diane Wilson Affair

By now the story of Diane Wilsons ill fated one week stint as the HoCo Chamber of Commerce legislative director is old news. For the past few weeks it has been one of the worse kept secrets in HoCo politico circles but it hadn’t been made public until the Cross Purposes blog wrote about it this past Monday.

I first became aware of the story almost a month ago when I received an anonymous email from someone who identified themselves as “disappointedinhoward” that said they were writing me “ because I’m really appalled about this and politics will not allow me to say anything on the record...I’m hoping one of you will look into this.” The email asserted that Diane Wilson was “far more qualified than any of the other candidates” for the legislative directors position. At the time Diane had been in the job for one full week and had not yet resigned. Tom Coale, Trevor Greene and Frank Hecker received the same email.

The writer made some pretty serious allegations about County Executive Ken Ulman and Councilperson Calvin Ball. They claimed that Ken “contacted a board member at home to express his concern and ask that the decision be changed” and that Dr. Ball “contacted the Chamber and demanded that her offer be rescinded.”

I now believe allegations in that email to be wildly overstated. Though Ken admits that he did contact a Chamber board member Mark Thompson about Diane and Calvin did speak with Pam Klahr, the Chamber President, I seriously doubt that either of them asked or demanded that Diane be fired. Was it inappropriate for them to express their displeasure with her hiring? Perhaps, but consider that the county government is also a chamber member and for many years has enjoyed a good working relationship with the HoCo loco business group despite some ideological differences. As chamber members they have the same right to weigh in on the organizations actions as any other member.

The night I received the email I also received a call from a member of the Chambers Government Affairs committee asking me if I was going to write about this. I told him that this would only be a story if the Chamber reversed course and let Diane go. As far as I was concerned, if the Chamber had determined that she was right person for the job after interviewing all the candidates there should not be a problem. I just naturally assumed that the Chamber had properly vetted her before making their decision.  Once that decision had been made the only proper thing to do is to stand by their choice and defend it but as we now know they didn't exactly do that.

I won’t pass judgment on Ms. Wilson’s qualifications for the job because I don’t know her but this whole episode certainly doesn’t speak well of the chambers decision making process.

Now that Diane has filed a formal complaint against Ken and Calvin with the Howard County Ethics Commission, this whole sad affair will get a full public hearing and I suspect that in the end there will be no winners.
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