Alexandria's embattled City Manager Douglas Harman said yesterday he will resign to accept a similar job in Fort Worth.
The offer followed a 5-to-4 vote by the City Council there and came as a special grand jury in Alexandria continued its inquiry into charges that a top Harman appointee prematurely halted a drug investigation last year.
Harman, 44, who has been the chief administrative officer at Alexandria City Hall for nine years, has been furious that his reputation has been "smeared" by current controversy and had made clear to friends that he wanted to leave the city. He told the City Council recently that he believed he had been treated "worse than a common criminal."
He has not been called before the grand jury and the panel is not expected to examine his role in the drug case. However, Mayor Charles E. Beatley, long Harman's champion, has criticized the manager's handling of the 1984 drug inquiry and had said that he wanted a separate council investigation into the way both Harman and his appointee, Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel, handled the matter.
Last week, Fort Worth officials visited Alexandria and said they were satisfied that Harman had done nothing wrong. "This was a hard decision and I have mixed emotions about it myself," Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen said yesterday. "The drug thing was a big concern for us, but we went up there and talked to everybody we could find and at the end we came away convinced he was not to blame.
"We discussed this to death and we made a decision. We know there could be a problem, but I think we did the right thing."
Harman, regarded as a popular administrator, had applied for the Fort Worth job before the allegations about the aborted drug investigation became public in December. He said yesterday he expected to start his new job in four to six weeks and will to travel to Texas this weekend to work out the final details of his contract.
His base pay will be between $85,000 and $95,000 a year, according to Bolen. Harman's current salary is $72,000.
"The decision about leaving is not at all influenced by [the grand jury investigation], Harman said at a press conference. "But how I feel about leaving has significantly changed. I would have had numerous regrets. I now have fewer."
"Despite current problems, Doug did an outstanding job for this city," said Beatley. "We all feel good for him but we hate to lose him."
The mayor said he had never believed Harman was as much at fault in the drug case as were "those he had working for him." Beatley did not elaborate but his comments could mean trouble for Strobel, whom Harman had promoted from police chief to head of the Public Safety Department. Strobel has applied for a police job in Denver.
Beatley said the council would meet Feb. 12 to appoint an acting city manager. He said the choice would be from among four deputy administrators, the senior one being Clifford Rusch. He said that the city would conduct a three- to four-month national search for Harman's replacement.
Harman, smiling and relaxed, said he had no qualms about accepting the job he won by such a narrow margin by the Fort Worth council. He expressed confidence that he would win over the skeptics in Texas.
One of those critics, City Councilman Jim Bagfdy, said yesterday, "I do worry about those charges in Alexandria. I don't think there was any criminal involvement. But you have to question his judgment. If I was the person coming here I'd be nervous about coming on a 5-to-4 vote."
Before taking his job in Alexandria, Harman, a native of Lincoln, Neb., spent almost three years in the Fairfax County government. He worked there first as director of research and statistics, and then as deputy county executive.
He is leaving a city that measures 16 square miles and has 105,000 residents for a community that has 450,000 people living within its 250 square miles.
Fort Worth is among the fastest growing cities in the country, according to Bolen. "By the time he's done here," said the mayor, "we could have about a million people here."