Charles County's top administrator for the last decade, Eugene T. Lauer, leaves office Friday without a resolution to the ethics complaint in which he became embroiled seven months ago.
The first formal hearing into the conflict of interest charge filed by commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) broke up last week after four hours, and the county's Ethics Commission is not scheduled to reconvene until early next month.
The Ethics Commission is exploring Cooper's complaint from March that questions whether Lauer and longtime Fiscal Services Director Richard Winkler -- both military veterans -- should have been involved in efforts to improve retirement benefits for county employees with military experience.
The four-member commission, chaired by the Rev. Brent T. Brooks, declined to dismiss the complaint Tuesday night. But members agreed to sever the matter into two cases and handle Lauer and Winkler separately, according to two sources familiar with the closed-door proceedings.
On Tuesday night, the panel heard testimony from its first witness, the county's former benefits coordinator, Melody Fox, who was in Charles County visiting from Florida, where she has moved.
Fox -- who waited for at least two hours in the hallway before testifying in a meeting room at the County Government Building -- was brought in to describe the Pension Plan Committee session last November at which the military service credit issue was first raised.
She was asked whether committee members Lauer and Winkler recused themselves from voting on the matter and answered "yes," according to the sources, who requested anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.
Cooper's complaint also suggested that an unidentified employee felt pressure from one of the men to revisit the military service credit issue, which was first considered in 1997. It is not clear whether Cooper was referring to Fox.
According to minutes from the November pension committee meeting, Lauer and Winkler declined to vote on the issue. Lauer's previous employer, Prince George's County, already provides him with a retirement credit for military experience.
The Charles County commissioners, including Cooper, initially approved the new retirement benefit in December. In January they withdrew their support, and the issue has not resurfaced.
Lauer declined to comment on the case last week or to elaborate on his reasons for announcing his retirement last month.
He said he prefers to depart thinking about accomplishments during his time as county administrator, such as improving the county's financial standing with Wall Street rating agencies and setting the stage for a minor league baseball park in Waldorf.
"That's the memory that I'm going to leave with," he said.
After 32 years of government work, Lauer, who is 58, said he plans to take a few months off. Then he plans to look for a part-time consulting or marketing position and help his wife start a health care business.
In assessing the state of the county, Lauer said Charles is "poised to get the next wave of quality economic development in the Washington region."
"We're at the cusp, and we are going to make a turn," he said. "You wish you'd snap your fingers, and it would happen overnight, but things don't really happen like that."