The chief executive of the beleaguered Maryland Port Administration has resigned after less than two years on the job.
Brendan "Bud" O'Malley will probably leave the post sometime next month, O. James Lighthizer, Maryland's secretary of transportation, said today.
Lighthizer said he would assume the duties of the job temporarily, serving as head of both the Transportation Department and the port agency.
"I'm going up there personally the day he leaves and stay involved for whatever time it takes to get a feel for the port's problems and to find the type of individual it takes to run it," Lighthizer said.
O'Malley denied this morning he was leaving but said he would have an announcement later today. The agency's public relations department did not return telephone calls from reporters.
Lighthizer said O'Malley told him Monday he wanted to leave the job because he would soon be eligible to draw a pension from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. O'Malley, 54, spent 25 years with that agency, rising to assistant port director before he left in 1989 to head the Baltimore port operation.
"I would probably do the same thing," Lighthizer said. "He also said he had been here for two years and had accomplished some of what he wanted to."
Lighthizer became transportation secretary on Jan. 1, a post that also includes the responsibilities of chairing the policy-setting Maryland Port Commission. There had been speculation ever since he took office that Lighthizer would replace some Department of Transportation executives, but he denied urging O'Malley to leave.
"He just came in and resigned," Lighthizer said.
O'Malley took over the port administration May 15, 1989, at a salary of slightly more than $100,000 a year, making him one of the state's highest-paid executives. He replaced David A. Wagner, who had held the job for three years until he had a falling-out with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Despite aggressive expansion efforts, including the opening of a new, $250 million marine terminal, the port has been steadily losing cargo to competing ports for years. And the port administration, traditionally a money-making department for the state, has been operating in the red for the past several years.
Both cargo losses and operating deficits have worsened since O'Malley's arrival.
But Lighthizer said, "Under Bud's leadership the port has made some progress in a number of areas."
When he took over the port administration, O'Malley said he would be a "peacemaker" along the bickering Baltimore waterfront. His experience in operations was also viewed as a plus for an agency about to inaugurate the Seagirt Marine Terminal, which opened last fall at a fraction of its capacity.
O'Malley's arrival coincided with the end of a series of labor disputes, raising hopes among union leaders that he would be more cooperative than his predecessor. But the port was twice plunged into dockworker strikes last year, despite intervention by O'Malley. And labor leaders complained about meddling by state officials.
At a hearing two months ago in Annapolis, O'Malley angered senators when he was unable to explain the agency's $7.4 million capital budget request. Lawmakers did go along with most of the port's financial requests but tied future spending to situations where it was necessary to obtain commitments from customers.
Lorenzo DiCasagrande, the local head of the Containership Agency, which represents several important port customers, said: "Personally, I think O'Malley was a reasonably good man. We are pleased with what he did and what he achieved."
"He will be remembered as the guy who came into town when there were a lot of problems and he leaves with some of them solved," DiCasagrande said.