Board still vexed by staff troubles Del. Davis requests probe into director's firing from War Memorial Commission

September 22, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Earlier this month, the Maryland War Memorial Commission chose a new board chairman and new executive secretary, hoping to put a year of infighting and turmoil behind it.

Two weeks later, however, the commission's troubles are back.

City administrators prevented the commission's newly appointed executive secretary -- the replacement for the former executive director -- from taking over the position last week after a Baltimore state representative requested an investigation into the dismissal of his predecessor.

East Baltimore Democrat State Del. Clarence Davis of the 45th District wants the city and state to look into the June firing of Cynthia DeLeaver-Coates before hiring a new commission executive.

"What troubles me is the manner in which [DeLeaver-Coates] was discharged and the allegations she put forth in the last few months of her tenure," Davis said. "It is my understanding that there was no due process at all."

In June, Baltimore police escorted former director DeLeaver-Coates, 47, from her office after the commission personnel committee recommended that she be fired.

Board members who supporther dismissal complained that DeLeaver-Coates -- the first non-veteran commission director in its 74-year history -- opposed a new work schedule, failed to complete her assignments and took too many sick days.

DeLeaver-Coates, however, has refuted those charges and demanded that she be given back her $35,000-per-year job.

She claimed that her problems began a year ago when she began questioning actions by the board chairman, W. Russell Brown.

The former director produced material showing that Brown notarized personal loans on commission stationery, solicited donations for events unrelated to the agency and provided a job reference for a former convict on commission stationery.

Brown, whose two-year term as chairman ended this month, denied any wrongdoing. The action was permissible in his role as chairman, said Brown, whose regular term will expire in 2000.

Three commission members who support DeLeaver-Coates have complained that she was dismissed without a proper hearing.

Upon learning about the situation, Davis, a Vietnam veteran, asked Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to hold off on approving the hiring of a new commission executive until the controversy can be sorted out.

In turn, Schmoke's office asked state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. to look into the circumstances of DeLeaver-Coates' firing.

Curran's office said yesterday that the matter would be reviewed.

Earlier this month, the commission agreed to hire Doug Henley, former state commander of the American Legion, as DeLeaver-Coates' replacement. City officials asked Henley last

week to vacate his post until the matter could be resolved.

Henley could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The somewhat-obscure board of veterans, established in 1924, manages the stately Gay Street memorial building on City Hall Plaza. Five board members are appointed by the state, five by the city. Civic groups traditionally rent the building for community meetings.

Board members, including new Chairman John E. Brandau, have complained that Henley's removal leaves the commission in limbo.

"We're at gridlock," Brown said. "We've got an office running itself with no one there."

Davis, however, urged the city and state to resolve DeLeaver-Coates' situation before moving forward.

"If these things are true, some action must be taken," Davis said. "The memory and honor of the defenders of this nation is not to be scoffed at."

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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