Asti's attorney makes case

The Baltimore Sun

In anticipation of a possible vote to remove Alison Asti as executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Asti's attorney released a letter yesterday defending a clause in her contract that would allow her to remain the agency's top attorney.

The letter is a response to various potential arguments Asti has heard against the validity of her contract, said Andrew D. Levy of Baltimore's Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

"Because Ms. Asti has not committed any act that provides the board with contractual right to terminate her employment as general counsel and director of development, Ms. Asti expects that the terms of her employment agreement will be honored by the board without the further involvement of legal counsel," Levy wrote in the letter to authority chairman Frederick W. Puddester.

Asti has said that conversations with Puddester left her with the impression that Gov. Martin O'Malley does not wish her to continue in her position. But her job status has not come up at the board's meetings since Puddester became chairman July 1.

The authority is scheduled to meet this afternoon, but none of the agenda items make reference to Asti or more broadly to personnel matters.

Puddester said he could not comment on the possibility of Asti's removal or on the terms of her contract, which was negotiated by former board chairman Herbert Belgrad when Asti became director in 2004.

At least three of the authority's seven members have remained ardent defenders of Asti. They are holdovers from a board that awarded her a $15,000 bonus this spring.

"She brings incredible institutional knowledge," said board member Howard J. Stevens. "But more than that, she's really passionate about what she's doing. It's not just a job for her."

Stevens and fellow board member Dennis B. Mather said O'Malley has every right to put a new person in the job, but said Asti's contract should be honored.

"It has not been a political position in the past, but if he wants to make it one, that's his right," Mather said of O'Malley. "I just think they have to be careful about how they treat someone as highly regarded as she is. I want to see her treated fairly."

A spokesman for the governor did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Asti, president of the Maryland State Bar Association, began working with the authority as a private lawyer in 1987. As an assistant attorney general, she began representing the authority in 1990 and became executive director in 2004. Board members credit her with bringing greater scrutiny to the authority's spending practices.

The authority faced tough questions when a legislative audit released in February criticized it for paying $42,000 for less than an hour of work by a former director who left under an ethics cloud and for handing a $104,000 severance package to an executive with just 15 months of service time.

"The audit gives us an opportunity to stir things up on the stadium authority and put in new leadership." O'Malley said at the time.

But Asti said she does not believe the possible efforts to remove her have anything to do with the audit.

A vote to remove Asti could unfold in several ways. The board could vote her out of her position as executive director but honor the clause in her contract that says she would stay on as the agency's general counsel and director of development.

The authority could then buy her out of that contract.

But Asti and her attorney, Levy, fear the board will claim the contract clause is invalid and attempt to remove her from all of her positions. Levy wrote that one potential argument against her contract is that, as general counsel, she reports to herself as director.

But he said that argument is false because she reports to the authority's board in both positions.

The state ethics commission released an opinion in May stating that there was no inherent problem with Asti holding multiple positions.

Previous executive director Bruce Hoffman also held several roles, and his contract also included a clause that said he would keep his other jobs if removed as executive director.

Mather and Stevens said they would be troubled by any move to invalidate the language in Asti's contract.

"If they don't want her, they have to pay her," Mather said. "They can't just make stuff up when the real reason is that they just want somebody different."

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