Officials Back Away From Nominee to Lead Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

By Ovetta Wiggins and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 23, 2009

The executives of Prince George's and Montgomery counties backed away yesterday from their nominee to lead the troubled Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, effectively killing the candidacy of former San Antonio water official David E. Chardavoyne.

Chardavoyne's bid for the post unraveled when Prince George's Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) told News Channel 8 that he had "soured" on Chardavoyne because of a racial discrimination lawsuit against him and a Texas water utility that resulted in a $635,000 settlement.

Because of WSSC's history of conflict over minority contracting and other racially charged issues, Johnson said during the interview, "I don't want to send anyone into the agency that has any blemishes."

A top aide to Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said later that Leggett had continued to support Chardavoyne but was "prepared to move to another candidate" after hearing Johnson's comments.

Timothy Firestine, Leggett's chief administrative officer, said a Johnson aide told Leggett on Tuesday evening that Johnson no longer wanted Chardavoyne to lead the utility, which provides water and sewer service to 1.8 million people in the two counties.

"The two executives need to work together on this," Firestine said. "Ike respects Jack's wishes to move to another candidate."

Asked whether Chardavoyne's candidacy is over, Firestine said, "That's the way I would read it."

The two executives announced their nomination of Chardavoyne last month, hoping to end a 3 to 3 stalemate between their six commissioners that has lasted 14 months. The WSSC is trying to find a permanent general manager at a time when it is dealing with a record number of water main breaks.

Reached in San Antonio late yesterday, Chardavoyne said he had not heard any word about his candidacy. But he said it would be a "terrible wrong" to hold the lawsuit against him in light of his record of promoting minorities in San Antonio and other places he has worked.

"This should not even be an issue, because it's so outrageous," Chardavoyne said.

He said the San Antonio utility's board had directed him to "deal with setting a performance standard" in the department headed by an African American employee who filed the lawsuit. He said a finding of racial discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was later rescinded. The utility paid $635,000 in a legal settlement in 2007 but admitted no wrongdoing.

But Johnson told News Channel 8 that he was concerned that the lawsuit apparently "fell through the cracks" during Chardavoyne's initial vetting process. Johnson said that he asked Chardavoyne during the job interview whether there was anything he should know about his past and that Chardavoyne had said, "Nothing you need to be concerned about."

Johnson did not return a call seeking comment last night.

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