Conte suing Towson for 1997-'98 bonuses

Dismissed founder of institute seeks nearly $250,000

Executive compensation

March 18, 2000|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Michael A. Conte, who founded and built an economic think tank into a respected regional force before he was dismissed from Towson University in 1998, is seeking nearly $250,000 in bonus pay from the college, according to documents filed at the Circuit Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis.

The events surrounding Conte's dismissal as director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) were also detailed in the court documents.

Conte and the university had previously declined to elaborate on what prompted his departure.

Conte declined to comment on the court case yesterday. He filed the suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Jan. 24.

Susanna Craine, a Towson spokeswoman, also declined to comment.

Conte, an economist, started the institute at the University of Baltimore in the late 1980s and moved it to Towson in April 1996.

RESI offered economic and demographic data on Maryland and Virginia that often could not be obtained elsewhere.

After relocating to Towson, the institute had grown substantially, both in staffing and contract levels, according to the court documents. RESI had 23 employees at the time of the move and about 100 when Conte departed. Contract revenue had grown from less than $2 million in 1996 to nearly $7 million in 1998.

According to Conte's employment contract with Towson, which was part of the court documents, he was to receive additional compensation based on a percentage of RESI's revenue in addition to his salary. When Conte moved the institute to Towson, his salary was $127,000 a year.

The dispute over bonus pay escalated into Conte's termination after Towson charged him with "causing [RESI] substantial and perhaps irreparable harm," according to court documents.

Before Conte was dismissed, he claimed that the university owed him $124,000 in bonus pay for 1997, and a "similar or greater amount" for 1998.

The university responded to Conte's claim in a June 1998 letter from John D. Haeger, Towson's provost and vice president of academic affairs, that stated that Conte "is not entitled to a distribution from revenue for fiscal year 1997."

The letter also said Towson did not have any information on whether Conte would be due bonus money for 1998 and the university would not consider the matter.

In November 1998, the university terminated Conte's contract as director of RESI, saying he had "caused the university considerable economic harm" because it had to fund RESI's "huge operating deficit from funds otherwise budgeted for essential educational and administrative purposes."

Also, Towson claimed that Conte billed the Maryland Department of Human Resources, RESI's biggest client, for projects that were unrelated to its contract.

From the work RESI did with the Department of Human Resources, it developed a model that was able to forecast economic activity based on the change in the number of welfare cases.

In an affidavit Conte filed as part of the suit, he said RESI developed cash-flow problems in mid-1998 largely because of problems with RESI's contract with DHR.

"The cash flow problems were not of my making, and were exacerbated by [Towson's] incompetence, mismanagement and interference with my efforts to address them," Conte said in the affidavit.

After Conte filed the suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court, it was immediately sealed at Conte's request. Towson agreed to the move.

The case landed in the Circuit Court of Special Appeals after the Baltimore Business Journal filed an emergency motion to lift the seal. That motion was denied by Chief Judge Joseph E. Murphy Jr., but a hearing on the matter has been set for March 30.

Pub Date: 3/18/00

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