Less than 24 hours after news broke that Anne Arundel County Chief Administrative Officer Jerome W. Klasmeier was being reassigned, he said he might retire to tend to health problems and spend more time with his family.
"I haven't decided what I'll do," said Klasmeier, who moved out of his fourth-floor office and into a new space at county headquarters in Annapolis yesterday. His wife of 36 years, Jane, helped him move boxes of photos and mementos documenting 38 years of public service.
Saying that her top staff member was working too hard and juggling too many duties, County Executive Janet S. Owens offered Klasmeier a deal that would allow him to retire but work as a consultant for special projects, such as redeveloping the former David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis.
"It is impossible to do what he was doing," said Owens, referring to the many tasks Klasmeier performed as head of county government and to the long hours he kept. "I absolutely love this man, and if something happened to him I couldn't live with myself."
Klasmeier, 61, has high blood pressure. He once thought he was having a heart attack when he felt a tightening in his chest. To guard against another scare, Klasmeier visits his doctor regularly, he said.
That hasn't kept family and friends from worrying about him.
"I know his wife and family have been pressuring him to retire," said Owens, who is starting the last year of her four-year term.
If Klasmeier decides not to return as a consultant, it "would create a huge hole," she said. "There is no one I know of who could do what he does."
Klasmeier said he has questions about the consulting agreement and wants to discuss it with Owens and with his family. He has three grown children and two grandchildren.
Klasmeier said he received a draft copy of the consulting contract Tuesday. It would allow him or the county to sever ties with seven days' notice. Even if he takes the new job, he plans to retire within the next year, he said.
County officials have differing views on the reassignment.
"These are the kind of decisions that any CEO makes, whether it be in government, business or sports," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat. "You try to make your organization work better by making the best use of your people's talents."
Some local officials say Klasmeier is putting a positive spin on a bad situation and that he was greatly disappointed.
They say he feuded recently with Owens over the feasibility of a plan to redevelop Parole Plaza. And they noted that Klasmeier refused to approve of the deal - a job he usually takes care of - forcing Owens to do it.
Klasmeier said yesterday that it was important that Owens sign the deal, given the long history of the project, which has been a decade in the making.
Owens asked Klasmeier to take over as chief administrative officer when she was elected in 1998. He hesitated; even then he was considering retirement.
"I told her I'd do it for 30 days and then we'd see how it fit," Klasmeier said. "Then we went for 90 days. Then a year. Then another year. And a third year. Every time, we said we'd re-evaluate."
That's what happened last month, Klasmeier said, when Owens approached him late one night after a council meeting and asked him whether he would consider a job switch.
Working under four governors and four county executives, Klasmeier has survived at least a dozen job changes. "This is just another one," he said.
"I was surprised initially," he said. "But I'm 61. I'm not 35 anymore. And the county executive was worried about me. I appreciate her concern."
Owens went public with her reshuffling plans Wednesday, announcing that former Department of Public Works Director John M. Brusnighan, who was set to retire that day, would replace Klasmeier. Owens said she wanted to free up Klasmeier for special projects, including some that could help bring in more tax revenue.
"To me, this move isn't dramatic," she said. "It's about putting the right people in the right boxes to be prepared for whatever we are faced with."
In another switch, Owens replaced Klasmeier's assistant, H. Robert Hergenroeder, a former state delegate from Baltimore, with Walter N. Chitwood, a longtime county employee who will work with Brusnighan to manage the county government. Hergenroeder will move to a new slot in the county housing agency.