CAPTION: Picture, EDWARD S. DEBOLT . . . had two-year contract
A political pollster who helped elect Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton announced today he is quitting his recently awarded $84,000-a-year state consulting job "to avoid any appearances that might compromise or embarrass" the governor.
The sudden announcement was aimed at quelling a political flap over what had become the most controversial action of an otherwise somnolent Republican administration.
Dalton himself disclosed the action here in the midst of an elaborate weekend celebration by Virginia Republicans. The governor said he had approved termination of the two-year contract with Edward S. Debolt of McLean
Dalton's statement today was a total about-face from a press release the governor, issued earlier this week, which heaped lavish praise on Debolt, who in 1977 ran Dalton's direct-mail campaign effort. In that release, Dalton said he was "delighted" to have DeBolt working for the state.
But today Dalton, who has denied having any hand in hiring Debolt, said the consultant's decision to quit "is necessary to remove any misunderstandings that have arisen about the reasons for employing Mr. DeBolt and his firm," ESD and Company Inc., of Arlington.
For the past two weeks in Richmond and around the state, angry questions have been raised about why a political pal of Dalton's should be hired by one of the governor's own political appointees to earn $7,000 a month giving advice to a state travel service that is already considered one of the best in the nation.
Other questions were raised by Democratic Party leaders and others about the property of DeBolt's contract with the state. The Virginia attorney general's office said Thursday it did not have a chance to review DeBolt's contract before it was signed. As a result, the contract was to have been rewritten to include a clause allowing the state to cancel at any time.
In response to the contractual dispute, Charles E. Walker, state secretary of administration and finance, ordered the state to withhold payments on future contracts that are not first approved by the attorney general's office.
As far as DeBolt and his job of helping the state attract tourists is concerned, some members of the state travel service said in interviews last week that a consultant was not needed.
"I don't think we need an $84,000-a-year consultant. I don't think we can afford that much consultation," said John Goodwin, who is in charge of advertising a market research for the travel service.
Advertising executives in Richmond who have handled the state's $1.4 million-a-year advertising budget in the past claimed that Dalton himself ordered that Debolt be hired. They called it a political payoff, but they were creful to ask that their names not be published.
The governor's office has maintained that Dalton did not even know that DeBolt was hired after a contract was signed. The whole affair, the governor's office said earlier this week is the result of "crybabies" in the advertising business who don't like outside interference.
Dalton's statement on Tuesday said that DeBolt, who has helped elect other Virginia Republicans, including Sen. John W. Warner and former governor Mills E. Godwin, has "exceptional marketing skills" and he is the kind of person the state needs "to help solve some of the tough problems that confront us."
DeBolt himself, said this week that the flood of criticism in Richmond originated with advertising executives there who "are gun-shy about recomendations that i've made contrary to what they've done in the past."
DeBolt, who described himself as "the best there is" at figuring out why people will come to spend money in Virginia said his two-year contract with the state was at the going rate for him. "I can sell myself to political clients amd other people at this rate [$7,000 a month] any day of the week," he said.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch which in the past two years has had mainly good things to say about Dalton, lashed out against the DBolt contract. The newspaper called DeBolt's hiring a "colossal mistake" and said the action "will be widely viewed, and understandably so, as a blatant act of political cronyism."
DeBolt was hired, according to Dalton by Fred W. Walker, whom the governor appointed last year to head the state Department of Conservation and Economic Development.
In an interview last week Walker said he hired DeBolt as a consultant to the state's award-winning travel service because he anticipated the effect of the gasoline shortage on the travel industry and knew that he would need creative thinking this summer to attract tourists to Virginia.
Walker said that the prizes won by the travel service in the past 10 years [which include every major award given by Discover America Travel Organizations, an umbrella group for state travel agencies] "are no good at the cash box."