Eugene Lauer, Charles County's top administrator for the past decade, abruptly announced this week that he plans to retire at the end of next month and end a 32-year career in local government.

In his resignation letter, sent late last week to the county's commissioners, Lauer, 58, said that "in addition to enjoying a less hectic and stressful environment, I intend to pursue, while I am still in relatively good health, some long-neglected personal and professional goals and interests."

Colleagues praised Lauer as a calm, detail-oriented county administrator who led Charles through a period of rapid growth and change.

"He brought a sense of stability and straightforwardness," said Commissioner Robert J. Fuller (D-St. Charles), who was a member of the board that hired Lauer 10 years ago. Fuller said he was surprised to learn of Lauer's retirement plans. "We're going to be hard-pressed to find someone to take his place."

As county administrator, Lauer oversaw the Charles government's transition to code home rule -- a change that made the county more self-sufficient and independent from the General Assembly and the local legislative delegation in Annapolis. He was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the county's plans to build a minor league baseball stadium.

During Lauer's tenure, the county's population increased from 110,000 to 137,000. With new people came new demands for services. The county, for instance, hired more paramedics and emergency medical technicians. He helped create a school funding and building formula to accommodate a growing student population.

The county's strong bond ratings in recent years have resulted in low interest rates for borrowing. Financially, Lauer said in his letter, the "county has probably never been in better shape." He added, "It has been an exciting time."

Along with the excitement, there was stress.

"All of these top-level jobs are highly stressful. You work long hours, and you have an incredible myriad of complex issues. And in this case, you have five bosses," said deputy administrator Victoria Greenfield, referring to the five elected county commissioners. Greenfield also worked with Lauer in Prince George's County.

"When you've had that level of work for 30 years, the time comes when you are happy to think about doing something else," she said.

Before coming to Charles County, Lauer held several positions in the Prince George's government, including director of the Department of Environmental Resources, assistant chief administrative officer and deputy County Council administrator. He started his career in his native Connecticut as a budget analyst in West Hartford.

Lauer did not elaborate on his plans in his resignation letter. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday because he was traveling in Ireland on a long-planned trip with his wife.

Lauer, who is paid $141,650 a year, told the commissioners that he is "prepared to assist in a transition in any way you may wish."

His announcement also surprised commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D), who said the board had not discussed how it would search for Lauer's replacement.

"Anytime you lose someone with that experience," he said, "it's a significant loss."