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Top Montgomery County aide resigns after being cited for ethics violations

Andrew Kleine, Montgomery County’s chief administrative officer, in 2018. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
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Montgomery County’s chief administrative officer, Andrew Kleine, has resigned after being cited for ethics violations, the county announced Wednesday. County Executive Marc Elrich has nominated budget director Richard S. Madaleno Jr. to take his place.

Kleine, who was appointed to serve as the top aide to Elrich (D) shortly after the county executive took office in December 2018, admitted in July to promoting his book while attending conferences paid for by the county and to having relationships with two private companies that landed county contracts after he assumed his role. Kleine did not receive financial compensation for connecting the companies with the county, officials wrote, but his actions still violated ethics law.

He agreed to pay the county $5,000 for the ethics violations, but lawmakers said the punishment was insufficient. At least five County Council members questioned whether Kleine should be allowed to continue in his role.

Kleine’s decision to resign “is the right thing to do,” County Council President Sidney Katz (D-District 3) in a statement Wednesday. “This change in leadership is an essential step to restoring confidence among county government employees and residents.”

Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) said that Kleine’s departure is “a step forward” but that lawmakers will still need to review practices and polices in the executive branch to ensure similar violations do not recur.

Montgomery Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine fined for ethics violation

Kleine, a former budget director for Baltimore City, asserted in his resignation letter on Tuesday that the ethics complaints against him were “handled appropriately” and “commensurate to the violations I have acknowledged.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “controversy around how the matter was handled has become a distraction that negatively impacts my ability to carry out my duties.”

Elrich said in July that he believed the $5,000 fine “resolves the matter” of Kleine’s violations, but he said in a text message Wednesday that he understands why Kleine resigned. He continued to praise Kleine even as he announced his nomination of Madaleno.

“During his time as CAO, Andrew Kleine led the County Government’s effort to reorganize services ranging from public safety to technology services,” Elrich said in a statement. “I thank him for his many contributions and wish him well in future endeavors.”

Madaleno, who grew up in Montgomery, is an established voice in local politics and widely respected in Democratic circles for his expertise in state finances. In 2002 he became the first openly gay man elected to the Maryland General Assembly. He logged 15 years as a state senator, along with an unsuccessful bid for governor, before joining the Elrich administration.

In his new role, Madaleno said, he hopes to smooth the relationship between the executive branch and the County Council, which has been strained over the past year by disagreements over budgeting, affordable housing and the county’s pandemic response, among other issues.

“I’ve known every member of the County Council from before they were council members,” Madaleno said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that this is the way it has come about, but there’s an opportunity here to hit the reset button on our relationship.”

Council member Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) said Madaleno is “someone who knows the county very well” and is likely to transition to the job quickly, which she said will be helpful with the county still in the midst of the pandemic response.

Friedson, who worked with Madaleno while serving as adviser to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, said his experience on the state level will come in handy as the county continues to negotiate the limits of its authority in implementing coronavirus restrictions. Montgomery was recently mired in a week-long dispute with the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) over the reopening of private schools.

Madaleno will serve as chief administrative officer on an interim basis starting next week but will need to be confirmed by the council before formally assuming the role. His deputy Jennifer Bryant will serve as acting director for the Office of Management and Budget. Kleine will stay in county government to help with the transition until the end of September.

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