Stadium Authority to consider removing director

September 18, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Stadium Authority is expected to discuss the possible removal of Alison Asti as executive director tomorrow afternoon in a closed session.

Asti's removal has been anticipated since July, when Frederick W. Puddester, an appointee of Gov. Martin O'Malley, took over as chairman of the authority. Asti has said conversations with the then-incoming chairman left her believing that O'Malley did not want her to continue in the job.

But tomorrow will mark the first time the board has gathered to discuss Asti's status, sources with knowledge of the meeting said.

Puddester did not return calls seeking comment. Asti declined to comment.

Previous authority chairman Robert L. McKinney released a letter yesterday refuting some of the possible arguments against Asti.

"If, indeed, the administration has only one litmus test for public servants, determined by their capability and commitment to performing their jobs, there is no reason to remove Alison Asti as executive director," McKinney wrote.

The stadium authority faced scrutiny when a legislative audit released in February criticized it for paying $42,000 for less than an hour of work by a former director who left under an ethics cloud, and for handing a $104,000 severance package to an executive with only 15 months of service time.

"The audit gives us an opportunity to stir things up on the stadium authority and put in new leadership," O'Malley said at the time.

But McKinney noted that most of the audit's findings related to Asti's predecessor, Richard W. Slosson.

"It should be clear that if the governor has reasons he wants to oust Ms. Asti, they are not based on the audit," McKinney wrote.

Said former authority director Bruce Hoffman, who hired Asti as the agency's general counsel, "It has to be based on something more than her performance, because she's done a good job."

Asti is president of the Maryland State Bar Association and carries more institutional knowledge than anyone at the authority. She began working with the agency as a private lawyer in 1987 and signed on as assistant attorney general representing the authority in 1990. In 1994, the agency hired her as its general counsel.

At that time, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., O'Malley's father-in-law, opposed the move, saying his office should remain the authority's chief legal representative. He said in a letter that Asti's hiring could hurt morale in his department because the authority would pay her more than the state paid its attorneys.

Some of Asti's supporters believe the governor's possible desire to remove her can be traced to that 13-year-old dispute. Two of O'Malley's closest advisers, chief of staff Michael R. Enright and insurance commissioner Ralph S. Tyler III, worked in the attorney general's office in the 1990s.

"These are baseless allegations," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. "Everybody saw the audit that was released earlier this year."

Asti's attorney, Andrew D. Levy of Baltimore's Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, has requested time to speak at tomorrow's meeting, but he said he had not received an answer as of yesterday.

Levy recently released a letter defending a clause in Asti's contract that would allow her to remain the agency's top attorney. He and Asti fear the board will attempt to invalidate that clause and remove her from all three of her positions at the agency without offering a financial settlement. Such a move could lead to a lawsuit.

"If she is removed, I believe the judicial system that respects the inviolability of contracts will certainly vindicate her where others overstepped their bounds," McKinney wrote.

Three of the board's seven members - Dennis B. Mather, Howard M. Stevens Jr. and Victoria Rosellini - have defended Asti's performance and said that, at the very least, her contract should be followed.

If that happens, the board could vote Asti out of her position as executive director but keep her as the agency's general counsel and director of development. The authority could then buy out her contract for those positions.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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