Former Del. Phillip D. Bissett, who lost a close contest for Anne Arundel County executive last fall, may be out of his new job at the state Department of Natural Resources. Or he may not be.
Amid published reports that Bissett had left the agency after about a month, DNR spokesman John Surrick said yesterday morning: "He is no longer working here." Bissett's last day was Thursday, Surrick said.
But by 3:30 p.m. the official word had changed. Surrick called The Sun and said, "The scope of his new responsibilities have not yet been defined."
Surrick added, "I got incorrect information and I thought that it was correct."
State personnel director Andrea Fulton confirmed yesterday that Bissett is still a state employee making $77,710 year.
But what is he doing?
"I can't comment on what's happening with him," Surrick said.
Reached at his home yesterday evening, Bissett said he was surprised to learn that others thought he was unemployed.
"I can't believe this," the outspoken Republican said. "I don't know where it's coming from. It's rumor, innuendo and misinformation."
He said he has the same job he started Feb. 17 - assistant secretary for intergovernmental matters. He works as a legislative liaison between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s revamped DNR and the General Assembly, local governments and the federal government, he said.
"As far as the source," Bissett said, "I don't know at this point without speculating."
The confusion about Bissett's future comes as the new Republican administration seeks to revamp an agency that aggressively pursued the agenda of the Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Ehrlich is the first Republican governor in more than three decades and, as a result, the agency is stacked with Democratic appointees. Ehrlich's unsuccessful battle to have a new DNR secretary confirmed by the Senate underscored the divide between the governor and Democrats in managing the agency.
Four top DNR officials, including the deputy secretary, were fired on Ehrlich's inauguration day in January, and the fisheries service director was dismissed this month.
A spokeswoman for Ehrlich declined to comment yesterday on the Bissett situation, saying it is a personnel matter.
Bissett, 46, of Edgewater was working as a lobbyist when he launched a bare-knuckle campaign to unseat County Executive Janet S. Owens last fall. She defeated him, 52 percent to 48 percent. Bissett drew attention for his tough attacks on Owens, from her acceptance of campaign contributions from developers to her use of police as bodyguards. Bissett, who had a license to carry a concealed weapon, said he wouldn't need a bodyguard.
Bissett served in the House of Delegates for eight years until losing a re-election bid in 1998. Ehrlich was a fellow delegate until 1995.
"You have a lot of political opponents in this life," Bissett said, "and when you've been as successful as the governor and I have over the years, you have people who dream up these things."