Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine told County Executive Marc Elrich in his resignation letter on Tuesday that an ethics controversy that he has been embroiled in for nearly a year had become “a distraction.”
Kleine resigned on Tuesday, and the announcement became public on Wednesday. Although his resignation takes effect on Saturday, he will stay on the county payroll for six more weeks after that, helping his successor move into the job.
Kleine recently was found to have violated the county’s ethics policy in how he promoted his book “City on the Line,” about budgeting. Kleine also, according to the Ethics Commission’s report, continued to maintain business relationships with two outside companies while CAO.
Last year, the county’s Ethics Commission began looking into the ethics allegations.
Last month, after the Ethics Commission issued its ruling, Kleine admitted to violating conflict-of-interest policies by promoting the book at out-of-town conferences and encouraging other county employees to buy it, at the expense of the county. Kleine agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.
He apologized for his actions last month in a statement to Bethesda Beat, saying he “made some careless errors in judgment.”
In his letter to Elrich, Kleine wrote that he was resigning as CAO, effective Saturday. He wrote that the ethics complaints had been “handled appropriately.”
“You also know that I never took any action with the intent to use my position personal financial gain. Unfortunately, controversy around how the matter was handled has become a distraction that negatively impacts my ability to carry out my duties,” Kleine wrote.
Neither Kleine nor Elrich could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
County Council President Sidney Katz, in a statement, wrote that Kleine’s resignation is “the right thing to do, given the ethics violations” found by the Ethics Commission.
“This change in leadership is an essential step to restoring confidence among county government employees and residents. Our system of representative government depends on the people maintaining the highest trust in their elected officials and government employees,” Katz wrote.
Council Member Andrew Friedson wrote in a text message to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that he respects Kleine’s decision and that his resignation “represents a necessary step in order to best serve the public.”
“Our only currency in public life is public trust,” he wrote. “Our residents expect and deserve county officials to follow the highest ethical standards. The work of local government depends on it.”
Council Member Tom Hucker declined to comment on Kleine’s departure, saying that all council members signed off on Katz’s statement.
Council Members Craig Rice, Hans Riemer and Evan Glass could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
County Council members blasted Kleine during a meeting on July 28. During that meeting, Council Member Gabe Albornoz questioned why the CAO was not put on administrative leave while he was being investigated.
Albornoz and Rice suggested that a person of color in similar circumstances would have faced harsher penalties.
Elrich, who appointed Kleine to the position in 2018, wrote in a statement released Wednesday that he accepted Kleine’s resignation on Tuesday and that it takes effect on Saturday.
Elrich wrote in his statement that among Kleine’s contributions were the Turn the Curve initiative, which helped “improve services and empower employees.” Elrich also wrote that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kleine had helped keep the county’s workforce stay “connected, motivated, safe and productive.”
“Over the last 20 months, Andrew has made many positive and lasting changes to the Montgomery County Government that will continue to benefit our residents,” Elrich wrote in the message.
Kleine was appointed in 2018 at a salary of $280,000.
Rich Madaleno, currently the county’s budget director, will take over as acting CAO effective Sunday, Elrich wrote.
Elrich added that he will nominate Madaleno to take over the CAO position permanently, subject to approval by the council. The council, Elrich wrote, could take up the nomination after it returns from its August recess next month.
“Rich is trusted by community groups and policymakers throughout the County and State for his leadership skills and budgeting acumen, which will serve the County well as we face the most significant challenges of our generation,” Elrich wrote. “I am confident that his experience and expertise will help my administration deliver on my promise to build a healthy, well-functioning, innovative, equitable and inclusive community for all of our residents.”
Madaleno was a state senator from 2007 until 2019, representing District 18 (Kensington/Chevy Chase). He was the vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee during the last four years of his time in office.
Madaleno also ran unsuccessfully for Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018.
Barry Hudson, a spokesman for the county executive’s office, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that Kleine will remain on the county’s payroll between Aug. 15 and Sept. 26. During that period, he will help Madaleno transition to the role of acting chief administrative officer.
Madaleno will be paid a salary of $230,000 as acting CAO, Hudson wrote.
Jennifer Bryant, currently the county’s deputy budget director, will replace Madaleno as budget director in an acting capacity, Hudson wrote. Elrich will nominate a candidate to serve in the role permanently, which the council will later vote on.
Hudson wrote that Kleine won’t receive a buyout or severance package, but was offered to participate in the county’s health and dental benefit programs until Sept. 26. Kleine’s county benefits could end before then if he accepts a job with another employer that offers health and dental benefits, Hudson wrote.
“He will pay the county the employee’s share of the premiums due for the medical and dental benefits and the County will pay its share of the premiums,” Hudson wrote.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org