Texas Man Picked to Head WSSC Has a History of Lawsuits Against His Former Employers

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The former Texas official nominated yesterday to oversee the water and sewer system in Montgomery and Prince George's counties sued two previous employers for breach of contract and left his last job, at San Antonio's water agency, under an agreement that paid him $412,000 and barred another lawsuit, according to news accounts and interviews.

An aide to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Leggett was unaware that David E. Chardavoyne had sued two private water companies over contract disputes until The Washington Post asked about the lawsuits. But he said Leggett still believes Chardavoyne is the best candidate to be general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Chardavoyne, 61, said he did not volunteer the information in job interviews with Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) because the lawsuits were publicized by the San Antonio media and he believed such contract disputes are "very common" during a long executive career. Officials from Prince George's County did not return calls for comment.

WSSC officials forced out one general manager, John R. Griffin, four years ago. His successor, Andrew D. Brunhart, left last year after his contract was not renewed. The agency has a long history of political tensions. Previous WSSC general managers have earned about $175,000.

Juanita D. Miller, a WSSC commissioner from Prince George's, said she was "very concerned" about the lawsuits, particularly if the county executives were not aware of them.

"That information is not in a résumé, but that's why you do a background check," Miller said. "It seems questionable why he has all these suits. I wouldn't want to set up our agency for anything that would cost ratepayers."

Miller said she would probably approve Chardavoyne's appointment but added that "the contract would have to have a lot of protections in there for us."

After a year of stalemate over who would lead the utility, which serves 1.8 million residents, Leggett and Johnson recommended Chardavoyne yesterday to the six-member WSSC board. Both executives cited Chardavoyne's leadership skills, job experience and ability to help WSSC repair its thousands of miles of decaying pipes, which have burst in record numbers this winter.

Gene W. Counihan, a Montgomery commissioner, said he wanted to know more about the lawsuits. "I think we have a responsibility to check references and backgrounds and judge the information we receive," he said.

Chardavoyne's appointment is expected to come up at the board's monthly meeting today, but a vote will probably not be taken until a contract is finalized, officials said.

Timothy L. Firestine, Leggett's chief administrative officer, said a search firm that checked Chardavoyne's background did not tell Leggett about the lawsuits. He said Chardavoyne was "very forthcoming" about why he left the two water companies. Firestine said county staff with experience at private water utilities said such contract disputes were "not unusual."

"It doesn't matter to Ike," Firestine said. "He still thinks David Chardavoyne is the best person for the job."

Firestine said Leggett also understood Chardavoyne's explanation that he was pushed out of his job as president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio Water System in May 2008 because its new board chairman wanted his own person in the job. "In the public sector, people get fired when a new administration comes in," Firestine said.

Chardavoyne said he received "low to mid-six figures" in a confidential settlement of his 1998 lawsuit against United Water Resources in federal court in Connecticut. He said he sued the company after he resigned over a contract dispute during a takeover by another company. He said his 2003 lawsuit against Thames Water Holdings Inc. is pending, also in federal court in Connecticut.

According to news accounts, some San Antonio officials complained that Chardavoyne was unresponsive to their concerns about some construction project costs. But James Mayor, former head of the San Antonio water board, said Chardavoyne saved the utility "millions of dollars" and was beloved by employees before he was pushed out.

"He did a marvelous job," Mayor said. "The sad thing is, in San Antonio politics, performance doesn't mean much."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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