Robert H. Pry, the beleaguered president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, resigned yesterday after a 15-month tenure that was crippled by recurring criticism of the agency and the way he managed it.
The CIT's board of directors accepted the resignation, acknowledging the need to rebuild the agency's image and saying that Pry's departure "would be in the best interest of all concerned."
"Whether justified or not, the board recognized, like you, that there is indeed an undercurrent of concern regarding CIT's future," Hays T. Watkins, CIT board chairman, said in a letter to Pry. Watkins applauded Pry's efforts in getting the agency under way, but said CIT's negative image made a change in leadership necessary.
CIT, one of former governor Charles S. Robb's major initiatives, opened in 1984 to coordinate research between high-tech industries and state universities. Its offices are near Dulles International Airport on the Fairfax-Loudoun county line.
Pry refused to comment yesterday, saying through a spokesman at CIT that he "does not take calls from the press." In his letter of resignation to Watkins, he noted the criticism of his handling of the agency and said: "The long-term benefits of the center are far too great to be jeopardized by near-term negative perceptions."
"Bob felt it was time for a change, and the board felt it was time for a change," board member John W. O'Malley said in an interview yesterday. O'Malley, a vice president at IBM Corp. in Bethesda, said there "was a lot of friction" between Pry and the board but quickly added that anyone would have had serious problems trying to run the new agency.
The board asked Pry, 61, to remain in his $100,000-a-year post until a successor is named. A brief press release issued by CIT did not name the candidates under consideration for the job.
Officials would not confirm news reports last week that Ronald Carrier, president of James Madison University, headed the list of possible appointees being considered by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and the CIT board. Carrier, who returned to his office in Harrisonburg yesterday after a vacation, was unavailable for comment.
Neither Watkins nor David K. McCloud, Baliles' chief of staff, would respond to questions about the resignation or about CIT. McCloud, who accepted a $97,500-a-year job with CIT last fall and then rejected it to join the Baliles administration, has played a key background role in Pry's decision to leave and efforts to recruit a new president for the troubled CIT, state officials said in Richmond.
Chris Bridge, Baliles' press secretary, said McCloud has been the chief adviser to Watkins and has kept Baliles advised of the deteriorating CIT situation.
Funded with a $30.2 million state appropriation, CIT and its administrators have been the subject of frequent attacks by Northern Virginia officials, who maintained that Pry and the CIT board were unable to demonstrate the agency's progress or to define its mission. Pry also has been faulted for failing to adequately promote the agency.
"The first thing they need is public relations," Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-McLean) said in a recent interview. "They need visibility. It's been too low-key so far."
Legislators accused Pry and other CIT officials of failing to keep them informed of the agency's activities. Pry achieved a measure of success in blunting that criticism during the recently completed session of the Virginia legislature.
"For the first time, Pry made an effort to make himself and the CIT more visible and accessible," state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) said yesterday. "I think they made a diligent effort to rectify that problem."
But, as Pry and the CIT board acknowledged in their letters yesterday, that effort apparently came too late.
"There is a continuing undercurrent of concern by the board with the manner and direction in which CIT management is moving," Pry said in his letter of resignation. He said the problems were compounded by the novelty of CIT, its broad scope and the fact that it operated "in public view" and was of interest "to virtually every segment of our society."
In his response, Watkins agreed that "start-up" problems with an agency such as CIT were inevitable. He added that Pry has had to deal with "multiple constituencies," including local and state governments, colleges, businesses and the media -- each, Watkins said, holding "differing expectations of CIT's mission and methods of operation."
Pry is a retired vice chairman of Gould Inc., an electronics company based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Before his selection, John Salley, a vice provost of research and graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, served as interim president.