Montgomery Official Wants Details on Economic Director's Severance Package

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Montgomery County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty), who chairs the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, said this week that he would press the Leggett administration to release the terms of a severance package provided to former Economic Development Department director Pradeep Ganguly.

"How could a payout package of public dollars not be public record?" he said. "People have a right to know where our money is going."

After 27 months on the job, Ganguly and the county parted ways last week by "mutual agreement," according to county officials. Ganguly had been on paid leave pending the outcome of an ethics probe.

Timothy Firestine, chief administrative officer to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), was investigating a $25,000 grant Ganguly's department awarded to a Bethesda company for which his son is chief marketing officer. Ganguly has said he was upfront with colleagues about his son's ties to the business, WeddingWire. He recused himself from discussions about the company and the final decision in 2007, he said, but Ganguly signed a formal letter notifying the company of the award. Ganguly said he was advised that he was the only person authorized to sign the letter.

With his departure, the investigation has been dropped. But Firestine has declined to detail Ganguly's severance agreement.

"It's a personnel matter in terms of how it is ultimately decided and that we don't feel is public information," he said.

Most government department directors serve at the pleasure of the county executive. In general, those who leave involuntarily are entitled to certain benefits, according to Human Resources Director Joseph Adler.

By The Washington Post's calculations, Ganguly -- who was paid $194,537 annually and served more than two years -- was entitled to as much as 12 weeks' pay, or $44,893, awarded at Leggett's discretion. Ganguly would have received another six weeks' pay, or $22,446, as a participant in the county's savings plan, in addition to as much as six months of health care coverage. Departing directors also can cash out up to 600 hours of unused paid time off.

Firestine said county officials will not conduct a national search for Ganguly's successor. In the meantime, the department's chief of staff, Tina Benjamin, has been appointed acting director.

Navarro and Kramer Gain Endorsements for Council

Montgomery County Board of Education member Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) picked up support from four of eight sitting Montgomery County Council members this week in her bid to fill the vacancy left by the death of Don Praisner in January. Navarro is one of six Democrats and three Republicans competing in primary contests April 21.

Council members Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) praised Navarro's experience in tackling tough budget issues on the school board and said she would reflect the diversity of the eastern county council district.

The endorsement event outside the council building on Monday included leaders from the Indian, Latino, African American and senior communities, and there was much talk of Navarro being part of a new generation of Democrats who could unite these groups.

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