Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Fairfax County Executive Leonard Whorton, under pressure from a majority of his bosses on the County Board of Supervisors, resigned Monday after only a little more than two years on the job.
After getting word from board Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville) that a majority was prepared to ask him to quit, Whorton drew up his four-paragraph resignation letter and gave it to the supervisors in closed session.
About 20 minutes later, returning to their public session, the board quickly accepted the resignation, effective Nov. 3, by a 7-to-2 vote. The only dissenters were chairman John F. Herrity (R) and Audrey Moore (D-Annandale).
Whorton, who earned $55,750 a year, has been on unofficial probation since last May, when a majority of the supervisors told him they were not satisfied with his performance. Politely but firmly, he was informed that his days were numbered if the board did not see what it considered improvement.
The main criticisms, and supervisor, said at the time, were that Whorton was not assertive, had not succeeded in reorganizing the county bureaucracy and had poor communications with the board and his own staff.
Mrs. Pennino said yesterday "he's a very dedicated, very hard working, very intelligent individual. The issue is lack of compatibility with the board. He did not sell himself or his ideas enough."
There was no unsettling or acrimonious scene when Whorton presented his resignation letter to the supervisors. "It was all very polite," said one observer, "nobody gets hurt." Nonetheless, Mrs. Pennino made it quietly clear in an interview later that a majority of the nine supervisor were prepared to ask for the resignation if it wasn't offered.
Whorton is not the first county executive to run into serious problems with the Fairfax supervisors. Six years ago George Kelley abruptly and angrily resigned after he was accused of exceeding his authority. Kelley's successor, Robert W. Wilson, resigned when the once-liberal board took on a more conservative cast after the 1975 election.
Unlike his counterparts in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the Fairfax County executive is appointed rather than elected. He has only administrative powers and serves - quite literally - at the pleasure of the supervisors.
All the supervisors who sought Whorton's resignation had generous praise for him. Joseph Alexander (D-Lee), for example, said he is a "very honorable individual."
However, Alexander said: I just don't feel he was really able to relate to the board on issues. This is a sophisticated, complicated group of people (the supervisors). You can't really judge this board by looking for a majority. It's a floating majority."
Mrs. Pennine said Whorton's problems were compounded when Chairman Herrity began to devote more of his energies to his congressional campaign against Rep. Herbert E Harris II (D-Va.) in the 18th District. "He (Whorton) didn't know whom to turn to," Pennino said.
One nongovernment person who has close working contacts with high county officials said, "the real proglem was that Whorton didn't have the right image. The board feels he just wasn't sophisticated enough."
Whorton came to his job, from Richmond, where he was assistant city manager of operations. In Fairfax, he replaced Wilson, who resigned to become the appointed administrator of Prince George's.
After his resignation was accepted, Whorton returned to his 11th floor office in the Massey Building. "I felt that if they (the supervisors) wished to have my resignation, they could have it," he said. "I don't feel disappointed. This is a form of government can have a county executive they feel that provides that the elected leaders comfortable with."
Mrs. Pennino and two other supervisors - Alexander and Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield), who also wanted the resgnation - are in charge of selecting an acting county executive to serve until a permanent replacement for Whorton can be found. Mrs. Pennino said the fill-in county executive will probably be named from among Whorton's three deputies.
Herrity, losing one of his biggest decisions as chairman of the board, said "I believe be (Whorton) has brought to this job a significant amount of integrity. The board and the citizens of Fairfax County will miss his presence."
In his letter of resignation, Whorton said:
"I believe that the Fairfax County government has made significant progress on many fronts during the period of this board's leadership and my tenure as county executive . . . I personally have gained much from the experience of working - collectively and individually - with the members of this board, whose devotion to the well-being of your constituents is beyond question."