James J. Allman, the top administrator in Calvert County, announced his retirement last week after indications from the county commissioners that they wanted to make a change before the start of the 2006 campaign season, said sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

In a closed-door session Tuesday, the Calvert Board of County Commissioners voted to approve a deal under which Allman will leave his county administrator post Sept. 30 but continue receiving full pay until Jan. 13, the sources said.

Allman, 59, who was hired in 1974 as the county's first director of finance, guided Calvert though a period of tumultuous change as it transformed from a sleepy, rural outpost to the fastest-growing county in Maryland.

"Calvert County is a wonderful place today, and he has helped to make it that way," said Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown). "I think he can be extremely proud of his tenure."

The retirement, which was not publicly announced by the county, is the second by a county administrator in Southern Maryland this month. Eugene Lauer, the top administrator in Charles County, said two weeks ago that he would step down after a 32-year career in local government.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to all county employees, Allman wrote: "After thirty-three years it is time for me to give some time to my other passions: grandchildren and horses. I have had a great experience working for Calvert County, raised a wonderful family, [and] made many friends among my fellow employees. I wouldn't change a thing."

Members of the Board of County Commissioners were eager for change in the county administrator's office, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are concerned about retribution. One of the sources said that at least one commissioner approached Allman about eight months ago and suggested it might be time for him to retire soon.

Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said he broached the subject with Allman a few weeks ago, something that Allman confirmed.

"The president of the board came to me and asked me: 'Are you considering retiring? You look like you're tired. It looks like you're ready to do something else,' " Allman recalled in an interview.

Allman said: "If that's showing through, then probably it is time for me to leave."

The commissioners also telegraphed their desire that any change in the administrator's office be completed before the commissioners are up for reelection next year.

"Everything is ruled by the election cycle," Shaw said. "You don't want to be looking for an administrator at the same time you're trying to focus on getting reelected."

The leading candidate to serve as the acting county administrator is Douglas A. Parran, director of the county's largest agency, the Department of General Services. Hale said the commissioners are scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday to select a temporary administrator; Parran is the only person they are scheduled to interview for the interim position.

When Allman first moved to Calvert County in 1970 to raise horses, the county had 20,682 residents -- less than one-quarter of the current population.

"It was a very, very rural county at the time," said Allman, who initially commuted to Washington, where he worked as a budget analyst for what was then the U.S. Veterans Administration.

When he was hired four years later to run the county's finance department, he had only one employee and a hand-posted ledger system that was three months behind. "We didn't have anything," he said.

During the next two decades, Allman oversaw a string of initiatives designed to bring the county government into the 21st century: the purchase of the county's first computers, the implementation of a modern accounting system and the creation of new pension funds.

"The strength of our county's finances is one of his most important legacies," Hale said. "He built that department."

In 1998 he was named county administrator, the top unelected position in county government, and instituted an automated tracking system designed to ensure a response to every inquiry from the public.

"He has an exemplary record of working with the citizens and the commissioners," said Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby). "I just can't say enough of how proud I am to have worked with him."

Allman, who said his annual salary is $135,100, first qualified for retirement three years ago but said he did not step down for financial reasons.

"Why does anybody stick around? To get a paycheck," he said. "What do you think?"

Although Allman said he would have stayed longer if the commissioners wanted him to, he expressed satisfaction with his retirement package. "It's a very, very agreeable separation," he said.

Now he will have more time to devote to a thoroughbred named Vianney that he bought in May. In the e-mail to county employees, he enclosed a photograph of his horse and expressed hope that its fractured knee would heal soon after his retirement.

"Now if we can only get this knee right on the horse," he wrote, "maybe we can win a race or two and life will be great!"