Once he was reprimanded for writing that a document was "attached" when it was merely "enclosed." Another time he got a letter back with the comment "No, stupid." And for months there were late night phone calls accusing him of incompetence.
Finally Tom Bronson had enough. Last week he retired from his job with the Prince George's County government without fanfare, a gold watch or fond feelings.
His retirement was the culmination of what Bronson says was a bureaucrat's nightmare: A boss out to get him, displeased with every memo or report.
Bronson, 60, says that he was the victim of a systematic campaign by Charles Deegan, who has served as director of the county's Department of Licensing and Permits, to force him to resign as head of zoning enforcement. Nineteen months ago Deegan reportedly told Bronson's colleagues, "I'm going to get Bronson" -- and he apparently succeeded.
Deegan, who was appointed director of the agency by County Executive Lawrence Hogan, a close political associate, denies he ever harassed anyone. "we were out to change him," said Deegan, who once worked for Bronson. "It wasn't intended to be harassment. He wasn't doing the job."
During a nine-year career with the county, Bronson had received promotions and salary increases. Before working for Deegan, he had never received any indication that his work was unsatisfactory.
Bronson who worked as a supervisor for the National Security Agency before going to work for the county is a quiet man and he describes his ordeal matter of factly. But when he talks about it, his indignation shows through.
"I was forced into retirement," he said. "I hate to admit it. I try not to get emotional about the whole thing, but it seemed a no-win situation."
Bronson's problems began soon after Hogan appointed Deegan as acting director of the department in December 1978. Deegan had worked as a zoning inspector under Bronson several years previously and tensions had developed over what Bronson felt was the poor quality of Deegan's work.
For the year and a half after Bronson became subordinate to Deegan, Bronson's personnel file, stocked only with letters of commendation up to this point, began filling with negative memos by Deegan or his deputy, Joseph Healey. They chastised Bronson for everything, from his use of words in correspondence to his failure, in their eyes, to properly control his staff.
Although Deegan now says he was not trying to force Bronson out, within his first few weeks in office he told department employes just the opposite. One employe recalls Deegan saying, "I'm going to get Bronson." According to another, the new acting director said, "You'll be in charge of Bronson's retirement party."
Deegan denies that any of the conversations took place, despite assertions from Bronson and several department employes that they did. "I never said I was trying to get rid of anybody. You just want them to do their job," he said.
By the end of the first few months of Deegan's tenure, as Deegan himself was coming under fire by the County Council for being "too political" and unqualified to head the department, Bronson said he was receiving chastising memos "by the hour."
Either Deegan or Healey would criticize grammar or choice of words in Bronson's correspondence, or in some instances, take him to task for failing to initial everything that came across his desk as a new department policy dictated. These memos would then be inserted in Bronson's department file as further examples of his inability to perform his job.
In one case, Bronson was criticized and the criticism was inserted in his department personnel file, for writing a letter stating that a document was "attached" when it was merely "enclosed." On another occasion he was berated for saying that the department "generated" certain information instead of "issued" it.
Bronson said he could deal with the memos, even as Healey sent him an ungrammatical note saying, "The attached is your comments on the proposed licensing fee bill." But, he said he became seriously concerned when a letter Bronson had written was returned by Deegan with a large green scrawl across it. "No, Stupid," and then placed in Bronson's personnel file. That note was followed by another, "PTB, Stupid Again, See Me Charles Deegan," which was routed to Bronson by way of subordinates in the department.
Said Deegan, "I wrote those letters out of infuriation at Bronson's bad work."
By late February, Bronson said he began receiving late-nite abusive telephone calls from Deegan and Healey.
To Bronson, the most extreme example of harrassment involved a letter drafted last May that was signed "Love, Charles Deegan" and was to be sent to Council member Sue Mills.
Bronson had written the original draft of the letter, signing it "Sincerely." According to a staff member of Bronson's, Deegan had edited the letter and changed it to "Love" as a joke.
The letter was taken back to Bronson for his approval. When he questioned the "love" ending, he was assured by his staff that Deegan had insisted three times on the change.
Shortly thereafter, when the letter was sent back to Deegan for his final signature, he called Bronson into his office and chewed him out for approving the letter. The letter was placed in Bronson's department file.
Deegan denies he authorized the change. "If someone told him I approved it," Deegan said recently, "why didn't he call me to find out?"
Last summer Deegan became deputy director of the department when the council told Hogan they would not oppose his appointment as director. William Gullett was then named to head the department. Bronson hoped that Gullett would help to restore his previously untarnished reputation. In September, though, Gullett officially reprimanded Bronson for lax supervision and poor letter-writing ability after being informed of Bronson's record by Deegan and Healey. Gullett says Bronson was not doing his job properly.
At this point Bronson filed a grievance with the county Department of Personnel. He charged that he was being intentionally "Harassed, intimidated and embarrassed" by Deegan and Healey in order to force him out of his job so that Healey, Deegan's friend, could replace him.
Bronson also told several people he was starting to feel that the pressure would never let up, and that he planned to retire in December.
As the word got out that Bronson was thinking of retiring, the memos and telephone calls were reduced to a trickle, he said. Meanwhile, Bronson wrote his wife a note over Christmas telling her, "I couldn't have gone through this without you." He also found he was suffering from high blood pressure for the first time in his life.
When December came without Bronson's retirement, the critical memos started again, he said. In February he was told by Healey that Gullett should fire him or move him to another job.
During a meeting with Gullett over his future, Bronson decided to make his retirement official on June 30.Gullett accepted the retirement, Bronson said, and allowed him to take the memos and reprimands from his file, provided Bronson dropped his grievance against the department, a request to which Bronson agreed.
"I figured I'd save myself and them the trouble. I didn't think I'd get a fair hearing anyway. The whole thing would have been an embarrassment." g
A day after Bronson's meeting with Gullett, a memo was sent around the department, telling employes that Bronson was retiring and Healey would be assuming his duties. Bronson was then assigned to review a three-year-old audit of the department. He was not given another assignment for four months, and on June 30 he quietly left the Prince George's County government.