Groups stand behind Badger

Ex-development chief received criticism in recent county report

March 14, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Business leaders across Anne Arundel County have rushed to the defense of a former economic development chief who was criticized in a confidential county report for alleged mismanagement, misappropriation of funds and political favors.

Several have said that the attacks against William A. Badger Jr., who served as chief executive of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. for nearly seven years until February last year, were unfounded. The entrepreneurs also questioned the inclusion of the allegations in the report, which was prepared by 14 community and business leaders to advise County Executive John R. Leopold on economic development and military expansion at Fort Meade.

"I don't get it," said Louis Zagarino, chairman of the board for the BWI Business Partnership.

Louis Hyatt, who served on a board committee for the county's economic development agency from 1993 to 2000, said Badger was a "knowledgeable guy who ran efficient operations."

"I have never heard anyone say anything adverse about him," said Hyatt, who runs a real estate management company and has done business in the county for more than 50 years.

The report - completed in late January and obtained last week by The Sun - denounced the use of county funds to pay for overseas economic development trips taken by Badger, former County Executive Janet S. Owens and other county officials; and the handling of the lease for the Chesapeake Innovation Center and its management. The center in Parole serves as an incubator for fledgling homeland security technology firms.

"Errors in judgment, operational mismanagement and excessive spending occurred under Badger's leadership," the report said.

The 20-page report also said relations between the economic development agency and the business community were "strained due to negative exposure regarding concerns of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds."

Bob Burdon, chief executive of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, said that the charges against Badger were unsubstantiated. He and other business leaders and county lawmakers said that if such allegations were true, they would have been uncovered by the nine-member board that oversees the economic development agency.

"I am particularly surprised about the comments about a strained relationship with the business community," said Linda Greene, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership. "That doesn't match up with the Bill Badger that I know."

Greene said he asked Badger last year to stay on as a member of the partnership's board after he left the quasi-government agency to become an executive at M&T Bank. His departure from county government occurred a few months before Owens stepped down.

"He was an asset that we didn't want to lose," Greene said.

Several said Badger served as a top-flight salesman in luring business to Anne Arundel County amid the competitive business environment of the Baltimore-Washington region. Badger, Owens and others spent more than $70,000 on trips during her eight years in office, ending last year, to promote the county's economic development. Badger wined and dined business executives to establish operations in the county, Zagarino said, and as a result sparked development around the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"He had to convince people that it makes sense," said Zagarino, who described Badger as "thrifty."

Badger said last week that he was "very puzzled" about the findings. The report said that Badger, Owens and others flew first class overseas, and that spouses traveled at county expense. However, Badger noted that county delegations flew overseas business class, and that those not traveling on official business reimbursed the county for their travel.

Owens could not be reached for comment.

The report on economic development and Fort Meade's expansion was one of four prepared by separate transitions committees that the newly elected Leopold formed in December to develop policy initiatives and advise him on ways county government could operate more efficiently. The committees focused on land use; education; public safety; and economic development and military-related growth.

The committee produced the findings after interviewing at least 17 officials from several county agencies, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce and from law and accounting firms.

Among its recommendations:

Privatize public housing in the county.

Form a task force of developers, residents and others to find ways to expedite the planning process.

Create a minority business development program.

Create a premier performing arts center that would "enrich the cultural and economic vision of this county."

Leopold will receive the reports Friday, and a county spokeswoman said last week that the county executive and others in his administration would decline to comment under after the findings were reviewed.

John Hiser, the committee chairman, also declined to comment on the report.

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