After weeks of withering criticism from County Council members over an ethics complaint, Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine resigned late Tuesday.
County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) announced Kleine’s resignation in a statement Wednesday. Elrich has nominated Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a former Democratic candidate for governor and the county’s current budget director, to replace Kleine as chief administrative officer.
“During his time as CAO, Andrew Kleine led the County Government’s effort to reorganize services ranging from public safety to technology services,” Elrich said. “He championed a Turn the Curve initiative to empower County employees to rethink and improve the delivery of services to our million-plus residents. Over the past five months, he has played a critical role in our community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. I thank him for his many contributions and wish him well in future endeavors.”
Elrich said he chose Madaleno as a replacement for his “leadership skills and budgeting acumen.” Madaleno, a former state senator and delegate, was the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and gave up his seat to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2018.
Kleine’s resignation comes after he was fined $5,000 for violating the county’s ethics law. He maintained business relationships with two companies that got contracts with the county after he was appointed CAO, according to a July 1 report from the Montgomery County ethics commission.
The ethics commission also found that Klein continued promoting his book, “City on the Line,” at conferences he was attending as part of his county work. The book is an account of his years as budget director for the City of Baltimore, and he often touted it as a treatise for county employees and good government advocates to absorb.
In the month since the ethics report was filed, Montgomery County Council members have argued Kleine’s penalty was too soft. In a Wednesday statement, Council President Sidney Katz (D) said Kleine’s resignation was “the right thing to do” after his ethics violations.
“This change in leadership is an essential step to restoring confidence among county government employees and residents,” Katz wrote. “Our system of representative government depends on the people maintaining the highest trust in their elected officials and government employees.”
In an interview prior to Kleine’s resignation, Montgomery County Councilman Gabe Albornoz (D), a veteran of county government before joining the Council in 2018, worried about the message the punishment would send to other county employees. He said he felt someone in a lower level of government would have been treated differently if they violated an ethics law.
“The message that it sends to the rest of county government is that you’re allowed one strike on some level,” Albornoz said in an interview last week. “I think that more should have been done on the front end to acknowledge the severity of this.”
He also said Elrich, who defended Kleine’s penalty, should have taken the situation more seriously.
“Frankly, I think it’s a big deal that our county executive did not think this was a big deal,” Albornoz said.
“Rich knows the county inside and out and is universally well-respected for his leadership skills and financial oversight,” Councilman Tom Hucker (D) said in a Facebook post.