Did resentment drive effort to fire Musselman?

May 31, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

John W. Musselman was fired May 20 as the county's farmland preservation administrator because he became too prominent and too popular heading a program the county wants to get rid of, his lawyer said last week.

"The method used in tumbling John is so highly offensive to me that I cannot clearly think about it without being overcome with anger," attorney Thomas E. Lloyd said when interviewed Thursday.

Lloyd is incensed by the tactics the county used to support what he views as petty, trivial allegations couched in non-trivial terms.

Especially outrageous, Lloyd says, is the fact Deputy County Administrator Cecil Bray assigned a police officer to shadow Musselman for perhaps as long as four months. Lloyd is also furious that Economic Development Director Dyan Brasington had Musselman's secretary, Sharon Mariaca, report to her about Musselman's activities.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker refused to comment about the allegations or the tactics used other than to say it was a confidential personnel matter.

Contacted at his home, Musselman also refused to comment on the allegations.

"I honor the system" the county has for dealing with employee matters, and talking about the allegations now would not do that, he said. "I expect to have a full, open and fair hearing in which all the issues will be resolved."

Musselman and Lloyd are scheduled to attend a "pre-termination conference" in Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.'s office at 10 a.m. June 8. Musselman is on annual leave until June 9.

The county accuses Musselman of filing odometer readings "totally inconsistent" with his expense reports, working short hours, undermining his supervisors, misrepresenting facts to the public, and being disrespectful of fellow employees.

"If John had been planning treason or overthrow of the government by violent means, such police surveillance may have been justified," Lloyd says. "But for checking an odometer? This whole matter sickens me. This is a case of a man who became too prominent and had to be taught a lesson."

The allegations against Musselman are contained in an eight-page internal memorandum from Rutter dated May 20. The memorandum, titled "Notification of Intent to Terminate," is addressed to Musselman.

On March 24, 1992, Musselman drove to Annapolis on county business from Columbia rather than Mount Airy, as his expense report later indicated, the memorandum says. It says Musselman claimed to have used a Buick that day, when in reality he used both a Buick and another car.

The memorandum gives specific departure and arrival times at places along the route Musselman drove that day such as "Beechcreek, 108, and Route 29 to return to the Howard County office building at about 8:07 p.m. where [the odometer] mile read 18422."

The memorandum says police surveillance "confirmed information, reluctantly provided by Ms. Mariaca in response to questions from Ms. Brasington, to the effect that [Musselman's] work days were characterized by late starts, long lunches and early departures."

Former state senate president James Clark Jr., author of the county program and a member of the farm preservation board, said the board was "very well satisfied with the job he [Musselman] did."

Although he found Musselman competent and thought he did "a pretty good job of running the program," Clark said he knew nothing of Musselman's work habits.

Clark said he does not subscribe to the theory that Musselman was fired to discredit the program. "They cut the funding off," he said. "That pretty well kills the program anyway."

Musselman became administrator of a languishing preservation program in June 1988. Participation had dwindled to practically nothing, with only one application for admission that year.

In October, the program was radically revised to allow the county to buy easements on an installment plan.

The plan was so successful it became a national model for municipalities wanting to preserve open space.

The plan worked like this: After agreeing on a price, the county deferred payment of most of the principal for 30 years, but allowed participanting landowners to collect tax-free interest twice a year until then.

During Musselman's four-year tenure, the amount of acreage committed to the program nearly doubled. Critics charged that the county was creating millionaires during an economic recession and that it was paying too much for parcels that would never be developed.

In a reorganization last June, Musselman was transferred to the Economic Development Office under Brasington. Musselman had reported previously to the director of Planning and Zoning and worked virtually alone in his West Friendship office.

On May 20, Musselman was called to Brasington's office and handed the memorandum of the county's intent to fire him. He was told to accompany Bray to the West Friendship office, clear out his personal belongings and never return.

That same day, his secretary and the program's files were moved to an office in the county headquarters in Ellicott City.

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