Pr. William County Executive to Take Amtrak Job, Says Move Unrelated to Scandal

County Executive Craig S. Gerhart.
County Executive Craig S. Gerhart. (Hyosub Shin - Washington Post)
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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Prince William County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said yesterday that he plans to step down, a move that comes a day after three former county employees were indicted in one of the largest alleged bid-rigging and embezzlement schemes in county government history.

Gerhart, who has served 31 years in local government and is leaving for a job with Amtrak's policy and development office, said his departure has nothing to do with the scandal.

"Right now, I'm going from a very high level of excitement about my new opportunity to profound sadness for leaving people I've known and worked with for 26 years," Gerhart said.

In discussing Tuesday's indictments, top county leaders expressed dismay that insufficient controls were in place to protect Prince William from an alleged scam that involved nearly $9 million in contracts. Authorities said the breakdown occurred in the county's information technology department. Three county workers and a fourth man were able to manipulate the bidding process to funnel county funds to specified companies in which they had a stake, police said.

Gerhart said strong internal control policies were in place that were designed to ensure that no employee had sole control over such contracts. But Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) said he was concerned.

"This is an embarrassment to the county, and the board will want answers as to why the internal controls in place the past five years were so weak and so easily bypassed," he said Tuesday.

Stewart said he does not blame -- or think anyone blames -- Gerhart for what happened. "I don't think this has tainted his tenure," Stewart said. "The lack of oversight was primarily in the [information technology] office and doesn't reflect any inherent problems with the organization as a whole."

Gerhart said the unfolding investigation, if anything, delayed his departure, "because I wanted to complete the process. . . . I felt like I owed it to the board and community."

The announcement of his resignation surprised county supervisors, who learned of his decision during a closed meeting Tuesday.

"I'm still a little bit stunned," Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said. "To me, he hadn't given any indication he was looking for another position."

Gerhart, 53, came to Prince William in 1983, after working for Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Gerhart became county executive in 2000 and in that role has overseen the creation of the Hylton Performing Arts Center and the transformation of the development review services department. He helped the county overcome a $190 million deficit to produce a $2.2 billion balanced fiscal 2010 budget.

He also saw Prince William through challenges.

"During the sniper case he was right there and gave me a great deal of support financially," Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said. "The same happened during the immigration issue. He was very supportive and understanding that it was a challenging time."

When Gerhart leaves July 3, the board will appoint an interim county executive. After that, board members said, they will probably begin a nationwide search for a replacement.

"He had the respect of every one of the employees and supervisors," Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) said. "He has a vision of Prince William that is wider and deeper than any of us put together, and he completely invested in it."

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