No. 2 official retiring from schools job Chapman oversees troubled department in Baltimore County

FBI begins inquiry

Dismissals raise questions about why bosses weren't fired

June 21, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Robert H. Chapman III, the Baltimore County schools' No. 2 official -- and the one with direct authority over the besieged facilities department -- abruptly announced yesterday that he will retire at month's end after 32 years with the school district.

Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said Chapman, 53, had two job possibilities elsewhere but would not elaborate.

Marchione said he didn't think the decision resulted from violations of procurement laws and procedures uncovered by auditors but added, "I think Mr. Chapman felt responsible for some of what occurred, if not all of what occurred, because he was in charge of that whole operation. But he hasn't done anything wrong other than he's responsible. He's the one on top. I think all of us have to hold some responsibility when we're in charge."

Chapman did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

As the fallout from the facilities problems continued at school headquarters, officials said the violations detailed in two recent internal audits have drawn the interest of the FBI, which has begun a preliminary inquiry, county and school officials said yesterday.

County Attorney Virginia Barnhart said local officials have promised to cooperate.

The inquiry is at "embryonic stages," FBI spokesman Larry Foust said yesterday. "We're trying to determine whether there is sufficient evidence present to warrant an investigation."

Chapman's retirement adds to a virtual clean sweep of facilities managers. Most of those changes were triggered by auditors' disclosures that department officials routinely awarded work without competitive bidding, misrepresented contracts to gain board approval, mismanaged projects and hired people who did business with the school system.

In the wake of disclosures that the bungled renovation of Deer Park Elementary led to air quality problems that closed the school, Executive Director Faith C. Hermann was transferred to the curriculum department.

Later, three maintenance officials were told that their contracts would not be renewed and were asked to vacate their offices on the next workday. Dennis Beran, the maintenance manager, resigned to take a job in Florida.

The dismissal of the three maintenance officials last month prompted some to question why they lost their jobs while their bosses remained employed. Hermann, who kept her $78,000 salary, will become an English department supervisor, Marchione said yesterday.

Chapman, Hermann's boss, was scheduled to move July 1 from the district's No. 2 spot to associate superintendent for educational support services at a salary of $91,000, a $7,000 pay cut.

School board member Robert F. Dashiell called it poor public policy to keep superiors and dismiss the people who take orders from them. "It's like the guy in Vietnam who gave the order to fire," he said. "The people who give the orders have to take the consequences of their orders.

"If [Chapman's] decision to retire is reflective of his own sense of responsibility to some extent for the problems within the facilities department, I'd view his actions as extremely honorable."

William J. Moran Jr., the former specialist for capital projects who lost his job in the wake of the audits -- which he says make false accusations -- was less sympathetic. Chapman "could no longer hide behind a lady's skirt," he said, referring to Hermann.

Other school leaders lamented the loss of Chapman, who joined the district in 1964 as a sixth-grade teacher at Ruxton Elementary School. He was promoted to elementary school assistant principal, principal and, in 1984, to assistant superintendent for the northeast area.

In 1992, he became associate superintendent for business and finance, then became acting deputy superintendent in 1995 when former superintendent Stuart Berger was ousted and Marchione was appointed acting superintendent. Marchione and Chapman have been colleagues for decades.

"I'm saddened because he has contributed a great deal to the school system over 32 years," Marchione said of Chapman.

Noting a pending departmental audit ordered by the County Council, school board member Sanford Teplitzky wouldn't assess Chapman's responsibility for the problems in facilities but said, "We're losing a very valuable employee. I've found him to be responsive and responsible and caring about the system. As far as I can tell, he's someone totally dedicated to the system. We could use more people like Bob."

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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