O’Malley Administration Covers its Tracks Over Scrubbed July Employment Report

Whatever we can do to make it disappear, we need to do it. That’s coming straight from the top.
–DLLR Communications Director, Bernie Kohn

I received the documents I requested through the Public Information Act from the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, regarding the gloomy July Employment Situation report scrubbed from DLLR’s website on August 20.

Despite the Attorney General’s office withholding some documents from my request, the documents are quite revealing.

Here is Part 1 of a two part series on the documents.

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The documents are mostly email communications between officials inside DLLR, The Department of Business and Economic Development, and the governor’s press secretary Shaun Adamec. They reveal a worried O’Malley administration scrambling to remove a factually accurate report, which did not fit the spin the governor’s office wanted to convey to the public about the true state of unemployment in Maryland.

I have constructed a timeline of events based on email communications between those involved in producing the original report, removing it and replacing it with one more in line with the governor’s spin machine. When necessary I have added my analysis to give context to what the emails mean.

On August 10 Adamec emailed DLLR communications director, Bernie Kohn asking “When do we see the July Jobs Numbers?” Kohn conferred with LMI supervisor Mary Jo Yeisley about when the data would be ready and set a conference call for Wednesday August 18 to discuss the press release.

On Tuesday August 17, Yeisley sent Kohn her draft release for the July report—the report that would be scrubbed from the DLLR website three days later. In a follow-up email to Kohn, Yeisley writes “Really wasn’t a whole lot to say I hate to project but I’m afraid what we’ll see next month…” Kohn replies back “I have cautioned the 2nd floor not to make much hay of this lest we get burned by a revision into negative territory later.” Yeisley replies back “Good call.” The “2nd floor” refers to the governor’s press office.

On Wednesday August 18, the governor’s office contacts Kohn again about the July jobs numbers. Sameer Sidh an analyst in O’Malley’s State Stat office asks DLLR official Dan Savery when the July jobs numbers will be ready and adds that “Press is already getting antsy.” Sidh then emails Kohn stating “Press is interested in having the numbers in prep for a speech on Saturday at MACO. Let me know when you can have something.” In this case “Press” means the governor’s press office i.e., Adamec.

At 10:01 AM on Friday August 20, Kohn sends out the official press DLLR press release, and report, which will eventually be removed goes up on DLLR website.

Martin O’Malley issues rosy press release, which runs counter to the pessimistic DLLR report.

Just before 3:00 on August 20 things begin to hit the fan.

2:56 PM DEBED Secretary Christian Johansson forwards an email thread—between DBED’s media relations coordinator Karen Glenn Hood, communications specialist Maureen Kilcullen, and DEBED economist Nancy McRea—to DLLR Secretary Alex Sanchez. Hood reposts the original scrubbed DLLR report with the following request, “Can U all send me talking points on the numbers as soon as you have them? Haven’t gotten the ask from CJ [Johansson] yet but I am sure it’s coming from either him or the Gov’s office.”

3:00 PM Kohn emails Sanchez under subject line “document being taken down now,” writing “Am trying to reach [Office of Workforce Information and Performance Director] Carolyn Mitchell.

3:01 PM Sanchez emails Kohn “Is it down? Call me as soon as we know who posted outrageous info on the site. And send me your Blackberry PIN.”

3:07 PM Kohn emails Sanchez to confirm report is down and provides PIN number.
3:08 PM DLLR webmaster, Michelle Williams emails Kohn informing him that she “took the link to the employment situation off the press release…restored June Employment Situation…and removed link to the Employment Situation from LMAI homepage.”

3:25 PM Williams responds to Kohn’s inquiry about who told her to post the report. Williams states that Yeisley “checked the information on the Development server yesterday and said it was good to go. As requested the Employment Situation is posted at 10 AM on the release date.”
4:05 PM DLLR Legislative Director and former SEIU political director Jaclyn Lichter forwards to Kohn—from her personal email account—the Ehrlich campaign’s press release highlighting the now removed report from the DLLR website.

4:21 PM Kohn emails Williams trying to cover their tracks. “Are we sure that removing that post removed all traces of it and that anyone could pull up on a search engine? Whatever we can do to make it disappear, we need to do it. That’s coming straight from the top. Thanks for your instant response earlier…damage done anyway but it would have been much worse.” [Emphasis mine]

5:02 PM Kohn emails Mitchell updating her on the situation. Kohn writes that under agency protocol, Yeisley creates talking points as a basis for internal discussions between himself, Yeisley, Savery, and other DBED officials. He then writes the press release based on that discussion and sends it out “with approval from the Governor’s office.” Kohn continues, “Some of the material on the update was diametrically opposed to the discussed and eventually approved messaging…Secretaries Johansson and Sanchez as well as the Governor’s senior staff were very upset to see this posted on our Web site and at Secretary Sanchez’s direction I instructed Michele to take it down. She did so.”

This email is crucial because it reveals the DLLR communications chief all but admitting to playing a little fast and loose with the facts of Maryland’s unemployment situation as presented by the analyst Yeisley. Remember that Yeisley told Kohn in their August 17 emails that there “really wasn’t a whole lot to say I hate to project but I’m afraid what we’ll see next month,” and Kohn’s reply that he would try to curb the enthusiasm in the governor’s press office.

We pick up with the rest of the story in tomorrow in Part 2.

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