Agriculture secretary resigns Lewis R. Riley says he wants to care for his ailing spouse

"No one can fill his shoes"

Glendening names deputy Henry A. Virts to head department

November 01, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

State Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley announced his resignation yesterday, saying he wanted to spend more time with his ailing wife.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening named Riley's deputy, Henry A. Virts, to take over the department, which has 405 employees and a budget of $39 million.

"I'm going to go home, enjoy the farm and take better care of Ginny," said Riley, an Eastern Shore farmer, referring to his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Riley's departure comes as state lawmakers are weighing a controversial requirement that farmers adopt and abide by nutrient management plans designed to curb runoff from their land. Such plans are voluntary, but environmentalists say that approach is ineffective in protecting water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

In announcing Riley's resignation, Glendening said the agriculture secretary had been an advocate for farmers during internal discussions on such matters. But once a decision was made, the secretary was "a team player" supporting the administration position, he said.

Glendening said he was turning to Virts because of strong recommendations from the agricultural community, and to maintain continuity during a time of tough discussions on farming issues.

"The timing is really unfortunate," said farmer and state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Somerset County Republican who is a friend of Riley's. "He knows agriculture. He knows Annapolis. There's no one who can fill his shoes."

Riley, a 62-year-old Republican, has been agriculture secretary since 1994, when he was appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer after two years as deputy. He had served 13 years in the General Assembly.

Virts, a veterinarian and farmer from St. Mary's County, was state veterinarian for five years. In 1994, Schaefer appointed him deputy secretary.

The secretary's job carries a salary of $103,559. Riley will stay in office until Thanksgiving.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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