Farmland Preservation Director John W. Musselman was placed on administrative leave with pay last week and his West Friendship office moved to county headquarters in Ellicott City.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker would not comment on Musselman's departure other than to say "it's a personnel matter" and acknowledge that Musselman has been placed on administrative leave through today.
Afterward, Musselman will be on personal leave. He is scheduled to receive an administrative hearing on the matter June 8.
Musselman could not be reached for comment.
Farmland Preservation Board Chairman James Robert Moxley III said Ecker notified him of the decision last Wednesday, but did not tell him any details.
"The question of how to deal with it is up to the county executive and his staff," Moxley said. "As far as I am concerned, John has done a great job. I hope that whatever the outcome, it won't hurt the program or reflect poorly on it."
Moxley said he hoped that moving Musselman's secretary to county headquarters in Ellicott City was not a sign the county was abandoning its West Friendship office.
"There have been strong feelings in the past about the need to have someone out there," Moxley said. "I hope [the move to Ellicott City] is not permanent."
Until January, Musselman and his secretary worked in West Friendship but were employees of the Planning and Zoning Department and reported to the director in Ellicott City.
In a January reorganization, the farmland preservation program was transferred to control of the Economic Development Department, which is also headquartered in Ellicott City.
County Administrator Raquel Sanudo said the transfer of Musselman's secretary to an office down the hall from Ecker was temporary.
"We're looking at alternatives. There very well may be a satellite office" in West Friendship, she said.
Sanudo said any personnel action taken in regard to Musselman "would not adversely affect the program" in any way. "The county executive is committed to moving forward with it," she said.
When Musselman was appointed director of the farmland program in June 1988, the preservation program was languishing and had virtually ground to a halt with only one landowner seeking admission to the program that year. In the previous eight years, only 7,770 acres had been kept from development, less than one-third the county's goal.
Under Musselman's direction, the program was radically revised. In October 1988, the county agreed to buy easements by making a balloon payment at the end of 30 years and pay tax-free interest on the principal until then.
So many landowners sought to enter the program that the County Council changed the criteria to assure that only the largest and choicest parcels would be accepted. In four years, the amount of acreage committed to preservation nearly doubled the amount preserved in the previous eight years.
The administration told the County Council earlier this year that the $15 million fund it had used to purchase easements was nearly exhausted and that the program would have to be slowed.