While the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission continues to negotiate the departure of General Manager John R. Griffin, a fight over his successor is well underway.
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is lobbying for Henry T. Arrington, chairman of his 2002 election campaign, to be named as Griffin's interim replacement, politicians in Prince George's and Montgomery counties said. Montgomery officials have said they want someone from inside the agency to take charge.
The issue is the latest controversy for the troubled utility, which provides water and sewer service to 1.6 million residents in Prince George's and Montgomery. The commission, which has 1,500 employees and a $659 million annual budget -- has been roiled for years by charges of corruption, cronyism, patronage and racial discrimination.
The agency's six-member board of commissioners -- whose members are appointed by the Prince George's and Montgomery county executives -- met in closed session in February to fire Griffin and his chief deputy, Michael Errico, alleging mismanagement and misuse of funds. Agency attorneys later ruled that the firings were invalid because the purpose of the meeting had not been advertised.
Montgomery County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) said he was told by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) that Johnson favored replacing Griffin with Arrington. "My understanding is that his name has come up and has been floated by Jack Johnson," Silverman said.
Of his effort to secure the votes on the board to hire Arrington, Johnson said: "I'm not confirming or denying anything."
Duncan said this week that he and Johnson have discussed several possible replacements for Griffin, but he declined to offer specific names.
Arrington has had a long and sometimes turbulent career in Prince George's politics. While serving as mayor of Seat Pleasant in 1973, he pulled a gun on the town's treasurer, clerk and members of the Town Council. Arrington, who said the incident was in self-defense, was arrested; charges were later dropped.
He worked as the utility's staff minority enterprise officer from November 1984 to April 1987, when he resigned to become a commissioner at the utility. He served on the board for nine years.
An internal audit of the commission found that after leaving the utility, Arrington helped arrange a computer services contract for Joseph Jackson Jr., then head of the commission's information technology systems, and businessman Arvind Agarwal to work for a Northern Virginia waste management company. The deal violated the agency's ethics policy.
Jackson pleaded guilty this year to federal wire fraud charges in connection with contracts he steered to Agarwal.
Montgomery County Council members said yesterday they do not support bringing in Arrington or anyone else from the outside to take over operation of the agency on a temporary basis.
Montgomery officials have mentioned two possible candidates: the agency's chief financial officer, Thomas Traber, and Carla Joyner, chief of mission support.
"Nothing against Mr. Arrington but I don't think it makes sense to bring in someone who has not been working there recently," Montgomery council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said. "I think it's critical that someone from the inside take the lead."
Silverman said the council has conveyed to the county's three representatives on the board that it does not support an outside candidate as interim general manager.
"Under no circumstances do we want someone from the outside coming in," Silverman said.
If Arrington wants to be considered as a permanent replacement, Silverman said, he should "go through the same process" as everyone else and apply during the national search that will probably be conducted.
Prince George's County Council Vice Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) said yesterday that the commission appears to be close to finalizing a deal with Griffin and Errico.
"Hopefully it will be done soon so we can bring some stabilization to WSSC," Dean said.
Arrington said he did not know that he was being considered as a possible replacement.
"If I am, I'm not aware of it," Arrington said. Of his possible interest in the position, Arrington said: "I was over at the commission for many years -- obviously I have interest in the position."
Also yesterday, U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus dismissed a suit by three Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission employees alleging racial discrimination at the agency, commission officials said.
The employees sued in April 2003 after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled there was "probable cause" they were passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified workers. The employees -- Linwood Q. Ham Sr., Benjamin F. Porter and Andre H. Proctor -- each asked for as much as $300,000 in damages.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has dismissed 10 of the 11 complaints of racial discrimination filed in June 2003 by mid- and high-level managers. The final complaint is pending.
Staff writer Amit R. Paley contributed to this report.