Hogan Cabinet official at fault
Documents show official had employees help on her class work
A member of Gov. Larry Hogan's Cabinet who abruptly left her job last month had assigned state employees to help prepare course work for her master's degree studies, state records show.
In announcing the resignation of C. Gail Bassette, secretary of the Department of General Services, the governor's office said Bassette was taking a senior executive position in the private sector.
Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request show that in the months before her departure, department employees conducted interviews and provided information that went toward Bassette's course work. The records request produced 75 pages of documents, including course work performed for Bassette and emails discussing the work.
Based on information provided by Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer, the governor's office learned during the week of June 20 about concerns regarding Bassette's use of state workers. After a review, the governor's office concluded that Bassette had used department employees and resources to complete course work, and Bassette offered her resignation July 1. It was accepted.
Maryland law tightly restricts what officials can reveal about personnel decisions, even those involving positions as high as Cabinet secretary.
When asked whether the administration had requested Bassette's resignation, Mayer declined to comment.
“We take allegations very seriously and move swiftly to resolve them,” Mayer said.
Bassette is enrolled in a Master of Professional Studies: Technology Entrepreneurship program at the University of Maryland, College Park, according to the university. The university website says the program is “designed to equip students with a practical understanding of the principles and techniques for effective new venture creation and launch.”
She earned a salary of $146,743 in her Cabinet position heading the Department of General Services, which manages state government buildings, conducts real estate transactions and manages a large share of state contract procurements.
Bassette, 59, did not reply to repeated requests for comment via emails left at her private email address and the email address connected with her longtime business, TCE Inc.
A message left with the concierge at her residence, an apartment which she also listed on her last state ethics disclosure form as TCE's business address, was not returned.
One email provided to The Sun
The email shows that as part of the assignment, the employee prepared an announcement about Bassette being honored by a fictional organization called the Route 100 Corridor Chamber of Commerce. The imaginary honor was to come for Bassette's role as founder and president of a proposed entity called MBE Connect, specializing in outreach to minority business enterprises.
Bassette replied to the email less than an hour after receiving the material from the unidentified employee and said she would have a conference call with her professor in a few minutes and would call the employee afterward.
An email a few days earlier with the subject line “Class assignment” shows that Bassette sent the employee five attachments outlining plans for MBE Connect, which she identifies as a company and “my brand.”
A lawyer in the governor's office declined to identify the employee, pointing to a provision of state law preventing the government from disclosing the results of an investigation prompted by a whistleblower's complaint.
The governor's office provided the emails and other documents in response to a public information request by The Sun. The newspaper asked for copies of “educational course work for former Secretary Gail Bassette performed by employees of the Department of General Services” and “communications between Ms. Bassette and employees of the department or other state offices regarding such course work.” The request also sought course work performed by Bassette using state computers or other state resources.
Among the documents provided in response were emails from Jack Howard, director of the general services agency's Office of Business Programs. Howard wrote in January that Bassette had asked him and the employee, whose name was redacted in the documents, to do market research for “an innovative new Small Business Outreach tool” for the department.
In a Jan. 27 email, Howard tells another department official, Assistant Secretary Wendy Scott-Napier, that Bassette wanted him and the unidentified employee to conduct interviews and record them so she could listen and assign one of her assistants to transcribe them. The documents include a list of state officials and business executives Howard had interviewed.
An attachment in Bassette's MBE Connect outline asserts that she conducted “over 80 one-on-one in-depth interviews” to pinpoint key attributes of her business that would make it valuable to customers.
There is no indication in the documents that Howard perceived the interviews as being for a purpose other than state business. He and other department employees named in the documents declined through an agency spokeswoman to be interviewed for this article.
Hogan named Bassette secretary after she spent two decades as chief executive of TCE, which she described on her LinkedIn account as “a strategic management consulting firm providing a broad range of support and advisory services to its federal, state and local governments and commercial clients.”
Her biography in the Maryland Manual says she earned a bachelor's degree from Bowie State University in 1979.
Ellington Churchill Jr. has replaced Bassette as secretary. Churchill had been deputy secretary of housing and community development.
When Bassette resigned, she became one of the few members of Hogan's original Cabinet to depart.
David R. Craig, the former political rival whom Hogan named to head the Department of Planning, resigned in June to take a job heading a commission on Maryland's 100th anniversary commemoration of World War I.
Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera left as secretary of higher education after failing to win Senate confirmation. James D. Fielder Jr., Hogan's original appointments secretary, took Hunter-Cevera's position.