Owens aide resigns position

Official mistakenly said UM student was arrested as youth

`This is totally extreme'

March 12, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

As expected, a top aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens resigned yesterday, several days after the aide mistakenly told a Pioneer City community group that a University of Maryland football player had been arrested as a youth.

Owens accepted a letter of resignation from Susan Kleinberg, the county's human services officer, Monday evening, Owens' spokesman Matt Diehl said. After meetings last week with the player's mother and Owens, Kleinberg decided to leave her $99,979 Cabinet-level post, Diehl said.

County employees familiar with Kleinberg's work said yesterday that they were "heartsick" about her departure, and some businessmen praised the work she was trying to do in the troubled neighborhood.

Kleinberg's rushed departure follows a statement she made at a gathering of about 50 residents at the Orchards at Severn development March 5.

Kleinberg said Monte Graves, a University of Maryland football player, had been arrested when he was a youth in Annapolis but that the local Boys and Girls Clubs had turned him around.

Graves, who is set to graduate this year with a degree in sociology and criminal justice, confirmed through a university spokesman yesterday that he is aware of the situation but declined to comment.

He was recently honored by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County for his work with local children.

"We hear kids saying, `I want to go to the University of Maryland,' and the reason they are saying that is Monte," said Reginald Broddie, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, who has known Graves since the late 1980s, when he started attending club activities.

Broddie said Graves was never a troublemaker. "He was an excellent kid," he said.

Graves' mother, Deneice Fisher, an Annapolis resident who helped found the Planning Action Committee of Anne Arundel County, was upset by Kleinberg's remarks. She contacted county officials, who set up a meeting for her with Kleinberg on Thursday morning, Diehl said. Kleinberg met with Owens later that day, Diehl said.

On Friday, Kleinberg, a clinical psychologist, said she would resign, Diehl said, adding that Owens did not ask her to leave.

Kleinberg could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In her three years with the county, Kleinberg has worked to redevelop the former Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis and to create affordable housing.

Some neighborhood businessmen criticized Kleinberg's departure yesterday as unfair, considering she apologized for the remark when corrected.

"We all make mistakes," said David Blanch, an area landlord who attended the meeting. "She took something someone said as the Bible, and it wasn't. This woman is the first woman who the community feels will help, and now she is leaving because one person didn't like what she said."

Blanch said that when Kleinberg made the statement about Graves, a woman in the audience corrected her. Kleinberg apologized during and after the meeting, he said.

"This is totally extreme punishment," Blanch said.

Bob Farmer, a Bowie resident and landlord who is vice president of the Warfield Community Association, wrote a letter to Owens last weekend. In it, he expressed concern that Kleinberg's departure could further delay or derail a project to build a Methodist church and community center at the site of an old pool in the community.

Kleinberg was working with association members to transfer ownership of the pool to church officials, who want to help rebuild the troubled neighborhood.

"I am very unhappy," Farmer said. "I have never seen anyone from the county that showed anywhere near the interest in helping as what Dr. Kleinberg has."

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