Pink Slip Surprises Richardson

Emergency Manager's Retirement Is Announced

November 18, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

Even though he's not happy about the circumstances, or the fact thatno one ever bothered telling him he was retiring, Primus Richardson says he will go gently into that good night.

After 14 years as thecounty's emergency management officer, Richardson learned he was retiring only after County Executive Robert R. Neall announced his departure at a news conference.

And if that weren't insult enough, he soon found that everyone liked his work but that no one wanted to save his job.

"I have the utmost respect for Primus," said Councilman Dave Boschert, D-Crownsville. "He has done an outstanding job. But one thing all of us in politics understand is that you're not here forever. Although I would loveto see him remain personally, I have to bow to the wishes of the executive."

The emergency management office plans for disasters, suchas floods, snowstorms, evacuations, nuclear disasters and hurricanes. It gets doctors and nurses to hospitals and sets up emergency communications systems.

Richardson, 64, is one of three upper-management employees who lost their jobs in an executive branch reorganizationannounced by Neall last month. The move will save $400,000 in fiscal1992, which ends June 30.

An appointee of former Gov. Marvin Mandel, Richardson had questioned whether the county had the authority toabolish a state-mandated position.

County and state officials didn't wait long to give him an answer. One week after Neall announced Richardson's retirement, Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Fire Administrator Paul Haigley to take over Richardson's responsibilities in addition to his own duties as fire chief.

"It gives me great pleasure to make this appointment," Schaefer wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to Haigley.

Three top volunteers quit over Richardson's departure and there was speculation that black leaders would protest, but that has not happened. Until recently, Richardson was one of only two blackCabinet members.

"A lot of people were hurt by this (reorganization)," said Lewis Bracy, president of the Black Political Forum. "We didn't see any evidence that he was singled out."

With all avenues exhausted and unwilling to make a scene, Richardson says he will leave quietly Dec. 1.

"It's not going to be the end of my life," he said. "I still have a lot to do."

He wished Haigley well with his new responsibilities. "I am sure he will do an excellent job," he said.

The other upper-management employees to lose their jobs -- Karen Michalec, executive assistant for human services, and Dan Roper, information services officer -- accepted Neall's offer of early retirement, saying they understood the executive's need to address the county's financial crisis.

But Richardson said he never knew he was beingasked to retire until a friend called him with the news after Neall's news conference.

"The dialogue between me and the county executive was that my position would be abolished on Dec. 1," he said. "Their interpretation of retirement and mine is not the same."

Richardson said he had hoped to work another year or two to square away billsbefore retiring. He said he hopes to find another job to make up forthe loss of his $63,000 salary.

"You're talking about a guy who's64 and been there 14 years," said Al Jeweler, one of three emergencymanagement office volunteers who quit over Richardson's treatment. "Where's he going to get another job?"

Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said county officials didn't mean to offend Richardson or any of the office's volunteers. She said the budget crisis forced Neall to eliminate positions that weren't essential.

"There's no question Primus has done a fine job for many years, but we're in a position where we've got to look everywhere for savings," Hayman said. "We didn't mean to offend anyone. We appreciate the efforts of all our volunteers, particularly when they're in an operation where they're called on to respond in an emergency."

Hayman said Joseph Byrnes, Richardson's assistant, will take over much of the responsibility of running the department. She said there would be few changes in operations.

Richardson said he is proud of the network of emergency services he has helped set up. He said he has dedicated his life to emergency services, attending school at night to obtain a doctorate in public administration.

"There are a lot of areas I can be proud of, and the whole county can be, too," he said. "I appreciate what all the citizens of the county have done for me over the years."

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