Lighthizer Turns To Teel--again

Former County Official Faces New Challenges With Port Administration

July 11, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

Six months into his first term as county executive and troubled by deficits and dissension, O. James Lighthizer appointed a relatively unknown school administrator named Adrian Teel as his second in command.

Teel didn't hold a master's degree in public administration, as the county charter required. Nor was he a member of Lighthizer's inner circle. He was hired simply because of his performance as a school administrator for 19 years. After all, in 1974, he had become the youngest assistant superintendent in the state at age 32.

"I had met him, but I didn't know him very well," Lighthizer said. "I was very impressed with him in interviews, but what really sold me on him was his extraordinary reputation as a manager and a person.It turned out to be right."

Teel soon won over his critics. He helped erase a $3 million deficit and persuaded Wall Street to preservethe county's bond rating.

After eight years as chief administrative officer for Anne Arundel County, Teel, 49, left recently to becomeexecutive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

He finds himself in a familiar position in his new job. He has no maritime experience and faces a $4 million deficit. Once again, people are questioning his ability to succeed.

"People were wondering whether I hadthe background and the credentials to do the job (in Anne Arundel County), and a lot of people are probably wondering that now," Teel said. "I hope people will give me the same time here, and hopefully, thesame things will happen that did in Anne Arundel County."

In Baltimore, Teel -- who recently hired Richard F. Mayer, former chief of the county's personnel office, as his executive assistant -- is takingover a port that has seen its competitiveness decline in recent years. Lighthizer said he believes he has chosen the right man for the job.

"This is one job I couldn't make a mistake on," Lighthizer said. "The governor gave me complete discretion in the decision, and I chose the one person I knew could do the job."

The MPA employs about440 people and has an operating budget of about $46 million. In AnneArundel County, Teel was responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization with 4,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $800 million.

Teel did his job with little fanfare or controversy, despite being at the center of an administration with a flamboyant executive. His style is deliberate, his speech measured. "My job was basically to operate the county behind the scenes, without the fanfare or the publicity," he said.

That philosophy carried over to his six months under County Executive Robert R. Neall. In December, Teel suggested the county impose a hiring freeze and take other measures to cope with a financial crisis. It was Neall who announced the plans and received the credit.

Lighthizer promoted the idea of running the county like a Fortune 500 company, but Teel put the idea into action, establishing a unique strategic planning process that allowed department heads and the administration to set goals and establish programs.

The administration was aided by a period of tremendous economic growth, which enabled it to start new programs while keeping the tax rate one of the lowest in the region.

"Adrian was the consummate professional," said former county budget officer Marita Brown, who worked with Teel for eight years. "I think the best thing I've seen in local government over the years was strategic planning.

"He was super at building the consensus that you need to get the job done," Brown said. "The spirit that pervaded the administration was very much a cooperative effort. At the planning meetings and cabinet meetings and focus groups, everyone was given a chance to put in their two cents worth and have their ideas heard. Everyone had a sense of ownership of the final product."

One of the few controversies involvingTeel was over a development company started in 1988 by his wife, Marjorie, and Phylis White, wife of school budget officer Jack White. Some questioned whether Teel should be involved in a company that developed in the county, but Teel said his wife started the company simplyto pursue an interest in designing homes. The company builds one home a year.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Harford County, Teel studied accounting and financial management at the University of Maryland, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1964. He went to work for the county Board of Education and attended law school at night, earning his law degree in 1970.

Then-superintendent Edward Anderson gave him more and more responsibility, finally making him assistant superintendent.

When Teel went to work for Lighthizer in 1983, his title was director of administration and he supervised fewer than a half-dozen departments. Over the years, his responsibility grew to some 21 departments and offices. His salary grew also; it was $105,000 when he left.

He will be paid about the same in his new job at the MPA. So far, Teel has found plenty of troubles at the port, but he maintains his familiar optimism.

"There are lots of problems, but nothing has caused me to jump out the window yet," he said.

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