An Anne Arundel deputy public works director has been suspended without pay for three weeks and transferred to another department because a perceived close relationship with his secretary created an "unhealthy" work atmosphere for other female employees, several high-ranking county officials said yesterday.
James M. Hurley, a 22-year veteran of county government, began his new job last week as business manager for the county jails after a summer-long inquiry led by Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Klasmeier, officials said.
Hurley, 47, who denies doing anything wrong, will continue to earn just more than $80,000 a year.
The forced transfer is the latest case to raise questions about the workplace conduct of some senior Anne Arundel officials, causing political headaches for County Executive Janet S. Owens.
The inquiry involving Hurley began in July after a former worker in his office complained to the county. The same complaint - backed up by an affidavit - led to the departure this month of a top personnel official, Joseph W. Alton III, after officials concluded he rigged an employee's computerized typing test.
It was Hurley's 28-year-old secretary who officials say benefited from having someone else take the typing test for her. The secretary resigned from the county in August but denied any improper behavior involving the test or Hurley.
Hurley was transferred because of the determination by Klasmeier's fact-finding team, after interviews with witnesses, that there was a perception by subordinates that he favored the secretary and made others feel uncomfortable.
"It really was the climate of the office," said a high-ranking administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That you have to hold the management accountable for. You can't have an environment that's counter-productive."
"All I can say is I've done nothing improper in the Public Works Department," Hurley said yesterday in an interview, declining further comment on the allegations.
He portrayed his job change as voluntary and said he could have remained in his old post had he wanted - an assertion two officials called inaccurate. He had been one of five deputy directors in the department; in his new job he is business manager for the jail system and its two detention centers.
"I'm looking at this as a new opportunity to add a new dimension to my career," Hurley said. "I hope that before my career ends with the county years from now, I will also work in other departments and agencies."
Officials would not comment on the record about Hurley's transfer because personnel records are confidential.
Hurley's transfer comes on the heels of several embarrassing allegations involving other officials, but Owens' staff praised the administration's response.
"This should send a clear message to employees that the Owens administration takes problems in the workplace seriously and will deal with them as swiftly as the process allows," said another official who also insisted on anonymity.
During the summer, Owens was criticized by some county employees after she seemed to doubt allegations involving Personnel Officer Randall Schultz. His former secretary claims he retaliated against her after she complained about Schultz's allegedly close relationship with a subordinate.
Owens said she meant to suggest that rumors in general be taken "with a grain of salt" - not necessarily the allegations involving Schultz, which he denies.
Hurley's salary was barely affected by the transfer - a $99 cut from his former annual salary of $80,947.
His predecessor as the detention center business manager, Frank Marzucco, earns $55,765. Marzucco now oversees finances for a division of the Recreation and Parks Department - a job parks director Dennis Callahan said Marzucco requested weeks ago.
Schultz said he could not comment on an investigation of Hurley but said that he couldn't think of a scenario in which a supervisor-subordinate relationship would be appropriate. "You can't control people's personal lives, but when those personal lives impact the workplace, we need to step in," he said.
It has been a difficult period for Owens. Police Chief Thomas Shanahan came under criticism for releasing, without a bail hearing, county fire Lt. Patrick Gilligan - the son of former county Councilman Michael F. Gilligan - after his arrest on a misdemeanor burglary charge.
Last month, Christopher Lee Middleton, former supervisor of the county government warehouse, was charged with making thousands of dollars in personal purchases using his county-issued credit card.
Owens also caught flak after disclosures that she approved the transfer of a 16-acre floodplain from the county to a country club partly owned by her campaign treasurer. County lawyers said the transaction was proper.