County Technology Services Cabinet Nominee Withdraws Name
County Council questions why WSSC executive would leave project unfinished
Vennard Wright, nominated to become the county’s director of technology services, on Monday withdrew his name from consideration after facing intense questioning from members of the Montgomery County Council.
Wright is the first high-level nominee of County Executive Marc Elrich to withdraw their name from consideration.
The position, responsible for implementing the county’s technology strategy, evaluating costs and applying best practices, pays a base salary of $212,000.
Wright, 45, faced questions about his time as the chief information officer for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the main water and sewer utility for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Wright told council members that he is still finishing work on a new billing system for ratepayers, which is set to be complete in early July.
“I’m worried you won’t be present to get it across the finish line,” said Council member Tom Hucker.
Council member Craig Rice asked Wright why he decided to leave the job with WSSC in the midst of the project rollout, to which Wright answered that he had grown weary of working 12-hours days.
“I did get to the point where I was burned out, because I was leading the implementation,” he said.
Wright said there were technology systems at WSSC that were “crashing every week,” when he started the job in 2017. The demands were similar to ones he faced in his previous job, as Prince George’s County’s chief technology officer.
In moving to Montgomery County, Wright said he “would not be the single point of failure,” compared to his previous jobs.
Council member Andrew Friedson told Wright that he was troubled by the comments.
“I am a little concerned about the sentiment that coming to a job is that you’re are burned out of your other job. That’s not what I would normally want to hear from someone coming into a new role,” he said.
In an interview after the council meeting, Wright said the council members’ comments caused him to reconsider applying for the Montgomery County post within the course of one hour.
“The council members are right. A lot of people are counting on me to be successful here. We [Montgomery and WSSC] are tied at the hip,” he said. “I thought about the questioning. I know the council members would be a lot more comfortable with me being at WSSC, so I think it’s best if.”
Wright said his main priority is to finish the rate system project. He declined to speculate on whether he would reapply for the Montgomery County post.
“Once this goes live, I can re-evaluate decisions at that point,” he said.
Wright graduated from the The University of Maryland-College Park in 1996 with a degree in marketing and held a number of private sector jobs before entering Prince George’s County government in 2010. He worked as director of information technology on former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Not listed on his resume, however, was his employment at the firm Watts-Wright & Associates, in which he was ordered to pay $2,767 to Leasecomm Corp. in 2001 as part of a civil lawsuit. Wright also filed for bankruptcy for more than $5,700 in 1996 when he was 22, according to court records.
Wright said of his bankruptcy filing that it occurred just after he had gotten married and was making $19,000 per year. He said because he was struggling to get by financially at the time, bankruptcy was his only option. Since then, he said he has had perfect credit and has not faced obstacles in gaining employment.
Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine, who is largely responsible for hiring decisions in county government, wrote in a memo to Council President Nancy Navarro that “due diligence” had been exercised on Wright, which includes a background check, criminal history check and credit history among other things. Wright’s bankruptcy filing, Kleine said Monday, was not an issue for him.
“He was 22-years-old at the time and newly married. He was in over his head financially,” he said.
Kleine said he did not consider Wright’s financial problems to be “disqualifying.”
“It’s always a red flag, but the question is, does this disqualify someone? And I think looking at his qualifications and abilities, that was a long time ago and we feel very good about him as a candidate for this position,” he said.
Wright’s nomination was one of three that had been under consideration by the council Monday. The other two nominees, Barry Hudson for the position of Public Information Officer and Steve Sluchansky for the position of Chief Labor Relations Officer, could be confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com