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November 10, 2004

Last modified November 10, 2004 - 12:58 am

Martz, Schweitzer argue over transition costs
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Martz, Schweitzer argue over transition costs

HELENA - In a tense, curt meeting Tuesday, Republican Gov. Judy Martz rejected a request by Democratic Gov.-elect Brian Schweitzer to let two state employees work on his transition team while remaining on the state payroll for their other jobs.

It was the first meeting between Martz and Schweitzer since he won the election Nov. 2, but there was little love between them. Although Martz and Schweitzer were polite to each other on the surface initially, an undercurrent of coolness pervaded the room, followed by a couple of hot exchanges between them. The meeting, scheduled for a half hour, ended abruptly after 10 minutes.

As a candidate for governor, Schweitzer often criticized the Martz administration. She in turn supported his Republican opponent, Bob Brown, and criticized him during her budget announcement the week before the election.

At issue was whether Martz would let Schweitzer, in effect, allow two state employees, David Ewer and Keith Kelly, draw their paychecks from their current state jobs but work instead on the Schweitzer transition team for the next two months. Ewer, who will be Schweitzer's budget director, is research manager at the Board of Investments, while Kelly, who also figures to play a key role in the new administration, heads the Unemployment Insurance Division of the state Labor Department.

"I hope you could sign them over to the transition staff," Schweitzer said.

"You know I can't do that because it isn't allowed by law," Martz replied, suggesting that the two men could draw down their pay for unused vacation and compensatory time from their current jobs and work for Schweitzer.

She said state law doesn't allow her to fund the next governor's transition staff out of the current budget. It does provide the governor-elect with a transition budget of $50,000, office space, equipment, telephones and computers. The incoming governor can request help from one or more employees of the state Department of Administration.

Schweitzer asked Martz if the law had changed from the 1988 transition from Democratic Gov. Ted Schwinden and Republican Gov.-elect Stan Stephens.

Martz said it hadn't changed.

"It does not say that I can take people from any department and move them over there," Martz added. "We didn't even think of requesting that when I came in because we felt that the statutes are pretty clear."

Schweitzer, forcing the issue, said: "It does not say that, and it does not say that you can't. So this is your choice."

"Yeah, and I choose that it's not the right way to spend the state's money," Martz replied. "I would say if they want to move, they certainly can by their own choice. And I'm not being ornery on that. I'm just being on the side of caution."

Irritated, Schweitzer pressed further, asking Martz if she was aware that it wouldn't cost the state any money for her to comply with his request.

"But if you're paying it out of state government, there is additional funds on the transition," she said. "I'm not going to do it. I think that's pretty self-explanatory."

Martz said it wouldn't be right to spend money intended to be spent on the transition.

A frustrated Schweitzer said, "So that it's clear, it's not a matter of statute. It's a choice on your part."

Martz, growing irked, said: "Brian, I have given you what the statute says, and you are not going to stick me with your words."

Schweitzer kept pressing, saying, "But I think that's an inappropriate choice of words. This is...."

An annoyed Martz interrupted him and put the issue to rest: "I didn't come in here to argue back and forth over what you think is right and what you think is wrong. You will be governor Jan. 3. You will take this office. The choices you make I will honor as governor. But I am the governor right now and until Jan. 3. I'm not going to argue over one iota of what you interpret and what I interpret."

Martz said she wanted to make it a smooth transition. Schweitzer, sounding eager to leave the room, said, "Well, we just want to thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and thank you for all the cooperation."

Afterward, Schweitzer said some fellow Democrats - Attorney General Mike McGrath, Auditor John Morrison and Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch - had loaned him staff to help on the transition.

Schweitzer said later that Ewer and Kelly would keep working on the transition, but he wasn't sure how yet how they would be paid.

"We're going to figure out a way to do it," he said. "We need their help."

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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