P. David Fields, the silver-haired official charged with stemming the migration of Baltimore County residents to outlying suburbs, announced yesterday his retirement from county government on May 1.
"It's time to go," said Fields, 63, a native of Yorkshire, England. "I'm not being thrown out. I wasn't asked to leave.
"I've had, as they say in England, a good whack."
Fields has headed the Office of Community Conservation since it was created by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger in 1995. He's spent countless hours roaming troubled neighborhoods in his Toyota Corolla -- overseeing alley improvements in Essex-Middle River, streetscape projects along Liberty Road and park construction in Lansdowne.
Ruppersberger tapped Fields to reverse years of decline in the county's oldest neighborhoods, scarred by substandard housing, flagging business districts and high crime rates.
Ruppersberger calls the effort a success, pointing to millions of dollars spent on school renovations, recreation centers and increased law enforcement during his and Fields' tenure.
"David understood years ago the importance of making neighborhoods places where middle-class families want to stay," said the county executive in a statement. "Otherwise, people will move out, putting pressure on rural areas and exposing older communities to blight."
Fields, however, was less sanguine about his accomplishments.
"One never knows if what one has done is successful," he said.
With Fields' departure, the county government will lose one of its broadest thinkers. Fields worked as a planner for the Canadian government from 1966 to 1969, and for the city of Jerusalem from 1969 to 1985. He then joined Baltimore County government, and served as planning director from 1988 to 1993.
Where the perspective of many county managers spans weeks or months, Fields frequently talks in decades.
"David Fields was a true visionary and had a realistic approach to planning," said Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council. "He's honest, and that's a trait that many of our government officials lack."
In accepting Fields' retirement, Ruppersberger announced his successor. Mary Harvey, 41, coordinator of community revitalization efforts in eastern Baltimore County, will replace her boss.
"That's good," said Tom Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association. "She's got a lot of energy."
A former aide to county Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, Harvey helped relocate hundreds of tenants after the county decided to demolish the troubled Riverdale apartment complex in Middle River. She also helped develop a strategy for long-term growth in the area.