An Aug. 5 Metro article about a management shakeup at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission incorrectly reported that the new interim general manager, Carla R. Joyner, is the first African American to lead the water-and-sewer agency. A previous general manager was also black, a WSSC spokesman said. (Published 08/06/04).
The board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has ended a six-month dispute with its two top managers, voting to pay each more than $250,000 to step down and appointing longtime agency employees as interim replacements.
Carla R. Joyner, the agency's chief of mission support, will become the first African American and the first woman to lead the utility, replacing John R. Griffin as general manager Aug. 29. Her deputy will be Chief Financial Officer Thomas C. Traber, a 25-year WSSC employee.
The water and sewage utility, which serves 1.6 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has been in turmoil since the six-member board voted to fire Griffin and his deputy, P. Michael Errico, by a 4 to 2 vote Feb. 18.
The attempted ouster, which was overturned on a technicality, prompted calls by public officials for reform at the agency, starting with the makeup of the commission, which is appointed by the county executives in Prince George's and Montgomery.
Public officials in the region said the resolution reached by the board at a six-hour closed-door meeting Tuesday will not stop a review of the agency's governing structure.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), chairman of the council committee that oversees WSSC. "We need commissioners who can make decisions in a timely manner. That it took them six months to resolve this does not look good."
State legislators have scheduled a briefing at WSSC headquarters Aug. 12 to learn more about the situation. Only the state has the authority to change the governing structure of the bi-county agency.
The settlement with Griffin and Errico will cost the agency more than $500,000, according to a copy of the confidential agreement reviewed by The Washington Post. The board will buy out the remaining 14 months of their contracts, which pay them about $180,000 a year. The deal also covers $37,250 of their legal fees and pays each an additional $67,000 in severance.
The board also agreed to provide the two managers with glowing letters of recommendation and promised not to conduct further audits of their performance.
Griffin, Errico and the six commissioners declined to comment on the agreement, citing the agreement's nondisclosure clause.
As part of the settlement, the board released a statement yesterday praising the outgoing managers and saying they had decided to retire from the agency.
"John and Mike have been extraordinary leaders who are responsible for making WSSC one of the best-managed water and wastewater utilities in the nation," the statement said. "We accept their decision to retire with regret and acknowledge them with deep appreciation for their extraordinary performance."
The board had been trying to force out the two managers for six months. Commissioners have accused Griffin of mismanaging funds, awarding unauthorized bonuses to staff members, ordering a $50,000 sport-utility vehicle for Errico and hiring diversity consultants without the board's knowledge.
A June 23 internal audit cleared Griffin of wrongdoing related to those allegations, but board members said they decided not to read the report.
The board's actions followed mounting pressure from elected officials in both counties to resolve the impasse. On Monday, the Prince George's County Council sent a letter to the commissioners urging them to hire a national search firm to select a permanent general manager within 120 days.
Floreen and Prince George's County Council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg) addressed the commissioners during the Tuesday meeting, threatening possible state intervention if the board did not resolve the situation that day.
The council members also told the board to name a respected national search firm, which the commissioners did not do Tuesday. The board did say it would begin searching for a general manager soon.
Griffin and Errico said in a statement that board members should improve relations with the agency's professional staff. "We are confident that they will be better able to discharge their responsibilities if they reach out to the vast majority of employees who are anxious to work with them," they said.
Several WSSC employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the board, expressed disappointment at the departure of Griffin and Errico.
"Our problems are with the board," said a senior employee. "A new general manager is not going to solve the problems that the board has."