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Blunt replaces chief of staff Ed Martin

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Ed Martin (KWMU file photo)

By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO. – Gov. Matt Blunt on Tuesday replaced Chief of Staff Ed Martin after a one-year stint during which Martin had increasingly become a focal point for criticism.

Blunt announced during a hastily called news conference that Trish Vincent, director of the Revenue Department, has taken over as chief of staff, effectively immediately.

The switch came as Blunt faces growing scrutiny for acknowledging that administration officials, including Martin, have deleted certain government e-mails. After initially defending the practice, Blunt recently reversed course and ordered that all government e-mails be saved.

Scott Eckersley, a former Blunt staff attorney, has said Martin fired him in late September for warning Blunt officials that state law treats e-mails as public records. Blunt officials have denied that, instead maintaining that Eckersley was a poor employee with attitude problems who used his state office for private work.

"This is a step in the right direction," Eckersley said Tuesday evening. "I'm still waiting for a public apology for the smear campaign that was levied against me."

Asked repeatedly at his news conference whether he had asked Martin to resign, Blunt refused to answer directly. Ultimately, he responded: "If you're confused, that's my intent."

Blunt spokesman Jessica Robinson said later that Martin had offered his resignation and Blunt accepted it. Martin's resignation letter included no explanation.

Blunt announced Martin's departure shortly after 2:30 p.m., with Vincent at his side and dozens of staff watching. He said the change had taken effect at noon.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, The Associated Press had asked Blunt if Martin's job was secure. He skirted a direct answer but insisted: "He's done a great job. He remains a good friend, and he's somebody I trust and respect."

Martin was not at either the morning event, at which Blunt pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey, or the afternoon announcement. He did not immediately return telephone and e-mail messages.

Even while announcing his replacement, Blunt said "Ed has served me, this office, and the state of Missouri very well over the last 15 months."

Martin is to remain on staff until Jan. 4, collecting his full salary of $120,356 annually while Vincent gets paid at a similar rate, Robinson said. Blunt said the overlap would aid in the transition.

Vincent, 53, of Jefferson City, is Blunt's third chief of staff in as many years. She also has the most experience working with him. She served four years as Blunt's deputy secretary of state, beginning in 2001, and moved to the Revenue Department when Blunt became governor in January 2005.

"Trish is a competent administrator and a dedicated public servant," Blunt said in a written statement. "She has tremendous experience and she knows how to lead and manage people."

Blunt's original chief of staff, Ken McClure, generally operated behind the scenes and seldom injected himself into the news. McClure left for a position at Missouri State University.

Blunt's office took on a more aggressive approach under Martin, a St. Louis lawyer who previously had worked for an anti-abortion group, a school-choice group and the Roman Catholic church. Martin also had been appointed by Blunt to the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.

Not only did Blunt's public appearances increase after Martin took over, so too did the public role of his chief of staff.

Martin took over on Sept. 1, 2006. Seven days later, he already was in the news. Martin derided Attorney General Jay Nixon for an "outrageous act" and "blatant abuse" of power after Nixon's staff warned board members of Missouri's student loan authority that they could face legal challenges if they used agency money for Blunt's college building plan.

Nixon is running against Blunt in the 2008 gubernatorial election. Martin frequently used his position to attack Nixon, most notably for Nixon's interactions with utility provider Ameren Corp. after its Taum Sauk reservoir collapsed and wiped out a state park.

In a 2006 news release announcing Martin's hiring, Blunt said: "Ed brings an exceptional legal, professional and personal background to this job and has shown the ability to bring diverse groups of people together to get results a skill that will serve him well in our state Capitol."

Although Blunt on Tuesday still defended Martin's ability to unite people, the reality is that Martin's actions sometimes divided them.

In September, some Hispanic groups called for Martin to be fired for what they described as an "inflammatory" remark made about Mexicans during a meeting of the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

During a discussion with a developer accused of hiring illegal immigrants, Martin had said: "every frigging developer can figure out who is illegal, and when he says like he told them there's a bunch of Mexicans out there, I guess some of them are probably not legal."

Martin claimed his comments were misinterpreted that he was merely paraphrasing what someone else had told him about that particular development and Blunt stuck with him at the time.

Martin avoided the public spotlight after Eckersley went public in late October with allegations that he had been fired for advising colleagues that their e-mail deletions weren't complying with the Sunshine Law and records retention policies.

Blunt on Tuesday declined to pin the e-mail controversy on Martin.

"I'm the governor, I'm responsible for what happens in state government," Blunt said.

Political scientist David Webber, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, said the controversies surrounding Martin ultimately were landing on Blunt.

"I think the current approach to governing is to cut your losses and move on quickly, and I think with Thanksgiving approaching, now would be a good time (for Blunt) to do that," Webber said in an interview just moments before Blunt replaced Martin. The political goal is that "people will forget about the e-mail stuff over the break."

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