In a move to put his own imprint on state telecommunications policy, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has removed Francis J. Knott as chairman of Maryland's Information Technology Board and has installed his closest aide as acting chairman of the panel.
Major F. Riddick Jr., the governor's chief of staff, will head the commission for six months to a year while Mr. Glendening seeks a permanent chairman for the ITB, Dianna Rosborough, the governor's press secretary, said yesterday.
In replacing Mr. Knott, the governor has removed a close ally of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and a man who brought controversy to an obscure, nonpaying position in state government.
As chairman, Mr. Knott helped broker the deal under which Bell Atlantic Corp. agreed to build a statewide "distance-learning" network to connect all of the state's high schools and colleges with state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable.
Governor Glendening said two weeks ago at a press conference held by Comcast Corp. that he believed the Schaefer administration's policies were skewed toward one technology and that he intends to take a more neutral approach.
Ms. Rosborough said yesterday that the board would not reopen the controversies surrounding the Bell Atlantic learning network, because most of the cable for the project already has been laid.
By championing Bell Atlantic, Mr. Knott angered the state's cable television industry in 1993-1994.
Cable industry representatives protested that Mr. Knott's active role as a consultant for Northern Telecom, a Bell Atlantic supplier, was a conflict of interest. Mr. Knott responded with undisguised scorn, setting off a public feud with Wayne O'Dell, executive director of the Cable Television Association of Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
Mr. O'Dell said yesterday that he believes the cable industry will have better relations with the new administration. "I'm encouraged if we get someone in there who will be open-minded and not partial to Bell Atlantic," he said.
Mr. Knott said yesterday that he learned about two weeks ago that he would be replaced as ITB chairman, a volunteer job for which he moved from Georgia to Maryland almost two years ago. He said he had assured the Legislature that he was willing to serve as a volunteer for another two years but that he was not surprised that the new administration wanted its own person as chairman.
He said we was proud of his service to the state, noting that Maryland has recently emerged as one of the nation's most competitive markets for communications and a pioneer in the use of state rights of way for fiber-optic cable networks.
Ms. Rosborough said yesterday that the governor wanted the chairman to be "someone who was part of his team and reflects his vision."
The appointment of Mr. Riddick signals that the Glendening administration will take an active interest in telecommunications issues. Mr. Riddick was Mr. Glendening's chief county administrator when he was Prince George's County executive and now serves as the "gatekeeper" of his administration.
Mr. Riddick, 44, has become familiar with controversy himself since taking his state job. He was one of the three Glendening aides who came under fire -- along with the governor himself -- for the extraordinary retirement benefits they were poised to collect when they left county office.
They later announced they would forgo the pension benefits until they reach the county's usual retirement age of age of 55.
Mr. Riddick said yesterday that he will focus on using information to bring new efficiencies to state government and more electronically delivered information to citizens.
He said he expects a permanent chairman will come from the current board, which he said has been "floundering" in recent months.