The director of the Maryland International Division, the agenc that oversees the state's trade initiatives, has resigned after recent criticism of the way the division was being managed.
Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, said this morning that Eric Feldmann agreed to resign after the two met on Friday. Wasserman, who has been head of DEED for just more than a week, would not comment on whether he asked for Feldmann's resignation.
Feldmann was not available to comment.
Feldmann has headed the Maryland International Division since it was formed in 1988 as a "one-stop shop" for Marylanders interested in trade and for overseas businesses interested in investing in Maryland.
Kathleen Bond, the division's director of marketing for international trade, has been named interim director of the 55-person division until a permanent replacement is found.
Wasserman said international trade remains a high priority for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is scheduled to undertake a trade mission to Mexico next month.
In a letter sent today to Del. R. Clayton Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore, speaker of the House, Wasserman said Feldmann was leaving to pursue other career interests. "His departure offers us an opportunity for a leadership change, which will allow us to re-evaluate our direction," he wrote.
The Maryland International Division has been criticized recently by state legislators looking at ways to trim the state's budget deficit, by businessmen who complained about the quality of help they were getting from the division and by current and former employees who said politics were interfering with the division's operations.
In the spring, state lawmakers ordered a performance audit of the division after receiving complaints from businesses who were unhappy with the help the division had given them. That audit is to be released next month.
Two weeks ago, a special joint legislative committee investigating ways to reduce the state's spending looked at the division's $4.5 million budget and recommended that the private sector do more to promote trade.
The committee suggested that the division's trade activities become the responsibility of the World Trade Center Institute, a new non-profit organization funded jointly by state government and private businesses.
Wasserman said he has reservations about placing the World Trade Center Institute in charge of the state's trade efforts. "It's not clear the World Trade Center Institute is ready for such a thing," he said.
The institute has only four staff members and a budget of less than $300,000.
Some of the strongest criticism of the Maryland International Division came from current and past employees. At least four of the division's trade specialists have resigned in the last few months. Several said the division had lost sight of its mission to help businesses and instead was devoting too many resources to planning the governor's travels abroad.