Prince William County Executive Bern Ewert has agreed to resign and is negotiating terms of a severance package with the county board, according to several supervisors who attended a closed-door meeting with him this week.
Pressure on Ewert to leave has grown as his relationship with board members has continued to sour, even though his agenda of slowing growth has proven popular among many residents.
In his meeting with the board this week, Ewert agreed to begin negotiating the terms of a resignation rather than risk being pushed out in a performance review scheduled for March, the supervisors said. He could step down as early as next week, they said.
A veteran city manager, Ewert came to Prince William three years ago with high marks for turning around the ailing downtowns of Roanoke and Galveston, Texas. But his relations with county politicians quickly grew rocky. A blunt management style and disagreements with supervisors over his tactics and vision for Prince William have alienated many in the county building, officials said.
"He was a visionary and a man of high energy," said Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), a Ewert supporter. "He wanted to do good things, but he had a tendency to be a little impatient."
Ewert declined to comment yesterday. County spokeswoman Kathy Bentz said that his status "is between him and the board."
Board members declined to speak for attribution on the negotiations. But three supervisors and another county official familiar with details confirmed privately that Ewert, who is paid $125,000 a year, is negotiating a package that will likely mirror a severance deal he would have received had he been dismissed--three months' salary, plus a month's pay for each year of service for a total of about $63,000, and other benefits.
Soon after he arrived in the county, Ewert, 57, grabbed attention with a series of proposals to slow growth in Prince William, whose high property taxes, declining home values from overbuilding and crowded schools have generated growing frustration.
Ewert's sweeping plan set aside the county's western third as a rural enclave and included asking for more money from developers and wiping thousands of houses from county planning maps. Skeptical at first, supervisors approved the plan 17 months ago with resounding public support.
Board Chairman Sean Connaughton (R), who was elected on a slow-growth platform and took office last week, credited Ewert with bringing "a fresh new vision and vigor to the county."
Ewert also helped jump-start the county's fledgling efforts to lure high-tech and other commercial development by hiring a reputable economic development chief, who is now credited with persuading America Online Inc. to build a $550 million data center outside Manassas. The county executive also pushed to revitalize the county's Potomac shoreline, helping lure a mixed-use marina and waterfront complex now under construction at the mouth of the Occoquan River.
"His goal was really to make the community more upscale," said Preston Caruthers, developer of Belmont Bay on the waterfront.
But at almost every step, supervisors bristled as Ewert charged ahead without consulting them. He announced the slow-growth plan on his own, leaving board members scrambling to share credit for it. His bluntness alienated many on the county staff, and last year his raise was conditional on attending a management class to improve his communication skills.
He remained an outsider, declining to buy property in the county and instead renting an apartment in Lake Ridge and commuting home to Charlottesville on weekends.
Ewert has reportedly been job hunting for several months. He unsuccessfully pursued a city administration job in D.C., city officials said.
CAPTION: Prince William County Executive Bern Ewert's style has irked some officials.