Ex-official assailed

Report, called a surprise, says development chief abused post

March 11, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

A county government advisory panel has severely criticized a former economic development chief for alleged mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, political favors and abuse of power, catching county officials and business leaders by surprise.

The panel of 14 business and community leaders was appointed by County Executive John R. Leopold to advise him on economic development and military expansion at Fort Meade. But its confidential report - completed in late January and obtained by The Sun last week - takes aim at the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and its former chief, William A. Badger Jr., asserting that the reputation of the agency has been "strained due to the negative exposure regarding concerns of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds."

It blames Badger, who stepped down as chief executive of the quasi-governmental agency after nearly seven years in February 2006.

The report criticized the use of county funds to pay for overseas economic development trips taken by Leopold's predecessor, Janet S. Owens, Badger and other county officials; and the handling of the lease for the Chesapeake Innovation Center and its management. The center, viewed as the premier laboratory for homeland security technology in the United States, was under Badger's authority.

"Errors in judgment, operational mismanagement and excessive spending occurred under Badger's leadership. ... This kind of behavior cannot and should not be tolerated at the taxpayer's expense," the 20-page report said.

Reached Friday for comment, Badger, now an executive at M&T Bank, said he was "very puzzled" by the findings.

"That was kind of a broad statement," he said. "I don't understand the context of that. I am very proud of my tenure."

Badger said that from 1999 to 2005, the county reported creating more than 30,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in capital investment, and helped to create the innovation center.

Elsewhere in the report, the committee hailed the agency for its "strong marketing history for promoting goodwill and prosperity among businesses and citizens." It also said that "there is a staff already in place with a knowledge of best practices within the history of the organization."

A spokesman for Leopold said he hadn't read the report. Several County Council members said they were surprised by the allegations and that they had never heard concerns from the business community or elsewhere about Badger's performance.

Bob Burdon, president and chief executive of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, vehemently disagreed with the report's criticisms of Badger and the economic development agency. He said relations between the business community and the agency are not strained.

"I don't know what to say other than wow," Burdon said. "I don't know what they are using for their basis. I can't find any validity in those statements being used."

John Hiser, chairman of the committee and owner of a construction company, said the report was confidential and declined to comment on the findings.

The committee included two senior members of Leopold's administration, Bob Leib and Sheryl Banks, school board member Konrad Wayson, Northrop Grumman Corp. executive Newton Gentry, Del. James King and the head of the county's NAACP chapter, Wayne Jearld.

The advisory committee was one of four appointed in early December to develop policy initiatives for the newly elected county executive and advise him on ways the county government could run more efficiently. It focused on military expansion and economic development, land use, public safety and education.

P. Tyson Bennett, an attorney who is coordinating the efforts of the transition committees, said last week that all of the work, except from the education panel, had been completed.

The reports could be critical to Leopold because the county faces numerous financial pressures, such as a $1.5 billion school maintenance backlog, rising health care costs for retirees for county employees and soaring costs associated with 10 union contracts.

County spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlaw said Leopold and others in the administration had not reviewed the reports. She said they would not comment because the reports might not be in final form.

The findings are expected to be presented to Leopold at a meeting Friday, Wardlaw said.

Business leaders generally have lauded efforts by Badger and the economic development agency to establish an attractive environment for big businesses, lure entrepreneurs and provide financing for small businesses. But the agency has also been criticized.

Owens appointed Badger to lead the economic development agency in 1999, when Richard J. Morgan, who had been named by her predecessor, abruptly quit amid pressure to make public details of its operations.

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