The Maryland Stadium Authority accepted yesterday the resignation of its executive director in an effort to end a continuing controversy that has followed a highly critical state audit report.
The move came as the authority fought a legislative proposal that would require it to follow state bidding rules. The authority is exempt from those rules.
The audit revealed shortcuts in competitive bidding, conflicts of interest and other problems at the authority - including the discovery of backdated memos documenting a $15,000 bonus awarded to authority Executive Director Richard W. Slosson. It also criticized Slosson for accepting gifts from a company that was doing business with the authority.
In recent weeks, Stadium Authority officials have gone before lawmakers in Annapolis several times to answer questions related to the audit.
"We took a pretty good beating," said Carl A.J. Wright, who took over as Stadium Authority chairman in July, after the period covered by the audit. "It just got to the point where the board felt, and Rick felt, the best thing for him to do was to tender his resignation."
"The audit was not going away," said Wright.
Slosson said yesterday that he had reached a decision "in his own mind" to resign while he was in Florida two weekends ago.
"I came here four years ago with a plan to do Towson and Ripken and UMBC and Comcast, all these great projects. ... But we're done with them now," he said, referring to the Minnegan Stadium renovation at Towson University, Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, the student commons at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Comcast Center in College Park. "There's really nothing left, and, unless we got slots, there wasn't going to be anything to do.
"I'm not a public-life guy. I'm not cut out for that."
Slosson submitted his resignation after business hours Wednesday, along with a detailed negotiated agreement that calls for him to stay on for 65 days as a paid consultant at his usual pay rate of $9,794.40 every two weeks. He will help in the completion of the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center, Wright said. Slosson, whose contract lasted through March 2006, earned an annual salary of more than $250,000.
In addition to the consulting fee, as well as vacation and compensatory time owed to him, Slosson is to receive payments of about $144,517 under an executive severance plan. He will be required to return a Chevy Trailblazer at the conclusion of the consulting period, according to the agreement.
Asti to step in
Alison L. Asti, the organization's general counsel, was named as the Stadium Authority's acting executive director and will be a candidate for the permanent job.
Asti, who joined the Stadium Authority in May 1990, has been responsible for all commercial transactions involving the construction and operation of the Camden Yards Sports Complex, the expansion of the Baltimore and Ocean City convention centers, the Montgomery County Conference Center, the Hippodrome and other projects.
The Stadium Authority expects to conduct a national search and name a permanent replacement for Slosson in a few months, Wright said.
Also yesterday, the authority presented a draft of planned operational reforms to a House subcommittee considering legislation that could require the authority to comply with state bidding and oversight rules.
The agency is hoping to head off the legislation with its proposal, but lawmakers appeared skeptical. They peppered Stadium Authority officials with questions prompted by the audit and heard again from the team of state auditors that made the findings.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, read lawmakers an excerpt of a letter from the Department of Legislative Services: "To the extent that the authority has been procuring construction services without competitive bidding, it is likely that requiring competitive bids or proposals would significantly reduce expenditures for construction and construction-related services."
It was about midway through the 90-minute meeting - a work session of the House subcommittee on government operations, within health and government operations - that Wright told legislators Slosson had resigned.
"A lot of the comments today have addressed the executive director," Wright told the lawmakers. "He's not in the room. There's a reason for that. He resigned last night. I expect his resignation will be accepted today."
Morhaim said he thought the Stadium Authority was moving in the right direction but noted that the new procurement procedures it proposed would need to be studied.
"Personally, I think it's going to take more than assurances," he said in an interview. "I think we're going to have to see accountability. I think we really need to see more than the concept of a culture change."
The six pages of procurement guidelines submitted yesterday were the result of intensive work over the past week by a hastily created task force headed by the Stadium Authority's first chairman, Herbert J. Belgrad, who served from 1986 to 1995.
Wright said lawmakers soon will receive information related to the audit that they have requested from the Stadium Authority, including backdated letters documenting Slosson's bonus. The letters, dated March 1, 2002, and October 1, 2002, appeared on Stadium Authority letterhead that included Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s name. Ehrlich was not elected governor until November 2002 and was not sworn in until January 2003.
Typo by a secretary
Former authority Chairman John Brown III has said he drafted the letters to memorialize past actions. The date on the March letter was a secretary's typo that was never corrected, and the other letter was dated with the month and year that Slosson's bonus was awarded, Brown said. He and Slosson said they did not notice the typo before signing the letter.
The audit, covering the period from Dec. 20, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2002, also said that Slosson accepted hospitality from a contractor doing business with the authority, in violation of state ethics laws, and recommended that the matter be referred to the State Ethics Commission. Slosson later wrote a personal check to cover the nonreimbursable expense, and a reprimand was placed in his personnel file.
Wright said he is working hard to regain public trust in the Stadium Authority, even as its responsibilities might be expanded to include school construction and projects related to slots.
"My job now is to go forward with proper oversight and regulation and get jobs done that the governor and the legislature wants us to do," Wright said yesterday. "We need to get back that swagger that the Stadium Authority has always had."