The tumultuous nine-year tenure of Raymond K. K. Ho as chief executive of Maryland Public Television came to an abrupt end yesterday as the network's governing body voted to fire him.
The Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission's 9-1 vote, which Mr. Ho compared to a "crucifixion," came just days after the embattled MPT president went public with allegations that Gov. Parris N. Glendening was trying to take control of public broadcasting to advance his political goals.
Commission Chairman David H. Nevins, who denied any such attempt, said the commission intends to launch a nationwide search for a successor to the 44-year-old Mr. Ho, who built MPT into one of the premier program producers in public television but whose aggressive management style provoked bitter complaints.
"A difficult but correct decision was made," said Mr. Nevins. He added that an interim president would be named by today from among MPT's four senior vice presidents.
Technically, the commission gave Mr. Ho two weeks to resign or be fired from the $101,000-a-year post. But he was informed in writing that he was relieved of all duties immediately and forbidden to return to his office at MPT headquarters in Owings Mills.
"I have to talk to my lawyer," a distraught but defiant Mr. Ho said afterward. "But I do not want to resign. I would like to make them fire me."
Mr. Ho accused the panel members of "abrogating their responsibility" by failing to address his charges.
"I believe this is a very important day for the state of Maryland. The people of the state and the legislature need to look at this situation and judge for themselves what's going on. Beyond every crucifix is a resurrection."
Mr. Ho also said he believed his outspoken Christianity was a factor in his firing, pointing to what he described as a "Jewish connection" among his critics, including Mr. Nevins and state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the committee that oversees MPT's budget.
"People who resort to conspiracy theories and attacks on people's religions are not worthy of comment," Ms. Hoffman replied. Added Mr. Nevins, "I've heard enough. I've just heard enough."
Mr. Ho's charge that the Glendening administration has a political agenda for MPT met with support from at least one Republican legislator.
"The governor has taken control of the public broadcasting system. That's a very ominous step," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, who repeated his earlier call for a legislative investigation.
After the meeting, a somber group of commissioners denied that politics had anything to do with Mr. Ho's ouster.
"I don't think this is a partisan issue," said Wayne Schelle, a Glendening appointee who identified himself as a lifelong Republican. Mr. Schelle, chairman of American Personal Communications Inc. and a founder of Cellular One, said neither the governor nor Mr. Nevins sought his vote against Mr. Ho.
Mr. Schelle, who had been accused of a conflict of interest by Mr. Ho because his company is involved in a partnership with Comcast Cablevision, was backed by commissioners Sharyn Steffey, a Republican appointed by Gov. William Donald
Schaefer, and Robin Oegerle, a Democrat appointed by Mr. Glendening.
The commissioners declined to disclose the exact grounds for the firing, citing confidentiality rules. But Mr. Ho said his firing was directly related to his decision to level public accusations against the governor.
Mr. Ho complained that he never did receive a written evaluation of his performance. "The O. J. [Simpson] trial took only one year. The Raymond Ho evaluation has already taken six months," he told reporters while he awaited the commission's decision.
Whether the firing was a "public lynching," as Mr. Ho charged, or career suicide, the MPT president undoubtedly braided his own rope when he made his public charges before raising his concerns with the full commission.
In an interview with The Sun last week and in subsequent interviews with other media, Mr. Ho outlined a series of charges against the governor and Mr. Nevins, including an allegation that they were pressuring him to run programs designed to curry favor with state business leaders.
He added accusations that Governor Glendening had "packed" the commission with five appointees who were determined to remove him. In the end, however, he could claim the support of only one commissioner, Vice Chairman Rebecca E. Carroll.
According to Mr. Ho, his public stand cost him a buyout package worth $300,000. He said Mr. Nevins offered such a buyout in an "off the record" meeting last month.
"Some men cannot be bought with a $300,000 package and the title Executive Director of Nothing, which is what David Nevins offered," Mr. Ho said. "I want to restore my honor, because to an Asian honor is what it's all about."
By firing Mr. Ho, the public broadcasting commission is severing MPT's ties with a man who was admired as a visionary but was frequently criticized for his volatile temperament and conspicuous self-promotion.
"MPT has become a valuable contributor to national programming on PBS, and that is one contribution that can be laid at Raymond Ho's feet," said Ervin Duggan, president of PBS. "Raymond Ho has given innovative leadership to MPT. In that regard, he serves as a role model for his colleagues at other state systems."
But the frail, nervous Raymond Ho who emerged from yesterday's meeting was a far cry from the youthful, confident executive who emerged as a nationally recognized advocate for the funding of public broadcasting.
He released a copy of a letter he had sent to Mr. Nevins in August, pleading for information on how his evaluation was going.
"These several months have been a time of mounting stress and excruciating pressures for me, personally and professionally. . . . I am exhausted and in constant physical pain from my back problems," Mr. Ho wrote.
In a series of conversations while he awaited the verdict over the weekend, Mr. Ho said he was nearly "broken" and needed pills to sleep at night.