Md. tech agency's director resigns

Singerman, a Glendening appointee, held the post for six years

December 14, 2005|By TRICIA BISHOP AND DAVID NITKIN | TRICIA BISHOP AND DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTERS

Phillip A. Singerman, who guided a quasi-state technology development agency from the dot-com bust into the era of homeland security-related startups, has resigned as its executive director.

In his six years leading the Maryland Technology Development Corp., the former assistant secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department in the Clinton administration helped TEDCO support tech companies with everything from promotion to venture capital. TEDCO is considered one of the top early-stage investors in the country.

"TEDCO's programs have now proven their effectiveness, the organization has achieved a new level of stability, and a competent and energetic staff has been put in place," Singerman wrote in a letter he submitted Monday to the agency's board of direc- tors.

"The organizational tasks now facing TEDCO are more administrative and less entrepreneurial. Therefore," he said, "I believe the time is now appropriate for me to seek new professional challenges."

Singerman, who was appointed to his post in August 1999 by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, did not return phone calls yesterday.

Singerman's last day as executive director will be Dec. 31.

Renee M. Winsky, the group's deputy executive director, will likely step in to fill the position on an interim basis after that, although a formal announcement has yet to be made.

Because Singerman was well-respected, some of those disappointed by the resignation saw it as the result of political pressure. However, unlike other recent turnovers at state agencies, the immediate reaction was muted.

The Maryland General Assembly created the organization in 1998, with the dot-com boom in full flower and bright kids with big ideas becoming instant millionaires.

TEDCO was given the job of moving technology being developed within the state's universities and federal laboratories into the commercial world.

"It doesn't happen through osmosis. There has to be an organization that is intensely focused on making it happen," said Penny Lewandowski, an executive with the Edward Lowe Foundation in Michigan and a former executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council. She was among the first people Singerman met when he took the TEDCO post.

"He had a real understanding of the mission and what they set out to do," Lewandowski said. "For somebody to be able to pull out these companies and give them the help that they needed and really put them on the map was something that we hadn't seen before."

Several TEDCO board members expressed surprise at Singerman's resignation, although talks had been going on as to how the seven-year-old group could best progress.

"I think [TEDCO] has done an excellent job of getting us to what I will call the first phase of this commercialization effort," said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, which oversees TEDCO. "The challenge is to take it to the next level. I've been having strategic discussions with the board over the last couple of years of how do we do that."

Part of those discussions centered on whether Singerman's contract would be renewed.

"I'm always looking for the next superstar to pop in. I don't think these government jobs should be forever," said Melissaratos, who is a member of TEDCO's board of directors. "I like Phil because he's a good guy. He did a super job. Again, even though he did a super job, I wouldn't mind finding a way to get the organization to the next level, and I've been talking to Phillip about that continuously."

Del. Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who was a lead sponsor of the legislation that created the technology investment agency, said Singerman was expecting to be replaced by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration.

State Board of Elections records show that Singerman contributed $950 in donations to former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend between December 2000 and July 2002, months before she lost the election for governor to Ehrlich. Singerman gave $250 to Ehrlich last year.

Singerman "has pretty uniformly gotten positive reviews. But the governor wants to put his guy in charge, which is technically his right to do," said Barve, who is the House Democratic leader and a frequent critic of Ehrlich. "Phil was expecting to be replaced, and I'm sure that was part of his motivation for leaving. Who wants to get fired?"

Melissaratos and other board members, however, said politics didn't push out Singerman.

"In no sense, in my view, should it be implied that Phillip was somehow forced out. He resigned his position on his own volition. People were trying to convince him - [board chairman] Frank [Adams] was trying to convince him - to stay," said Theodore O. Poehler, vice provost of research at the Johns Hopkins University and vice chairman of TEDCO's board.

On Monday, Singerman gave his resignation to Adams, who said he reluctantly accepted it.

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