- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Bob Schaller’s departure as director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development last month followed an email he wrote to the superintendent of schools emphasizing the attributes of a St. Mary’s County company that was not the low bidder for a contract award.
At 7:45 a.m. on Feb. 29, county records show, Schaller wrote Superintendent Michael Martirano regarding the board of education’s recent bids for propane gas.
That day, on Feb. 29, Taylor Gas of Lexington Park lost its contract with the public schools and Southern Maryland Oil of La Plata was awarded the contract with a bid of $66,315, procurement documents show. The Taylor Gas bid was $69,087.
Schaller wrote that the owner of Taylor Gas had done “everything possible to bring his best offer, but economies of scale is not his strong suit. Customer service, proven reliability, the ability to call him personally, and all that’s best value related are his advantages. Most importantly, yet implicitly understood, is value to the community as a local partner and supporter of vital needs including education.
“I must be careful in advocating for a friend. I’m really pitching the buy local theme for all the reasons you’ve heard,” Schaller wrote in the email, which was released by county government Tuesday following a freedom of information request. “At the same time I realize you’re in the midst of a competitive procurement where this factor was probably not a consideration in the evaluation. Rules cannot be changed after the fact.”
Schaller resigned March 7 from the job he had held since 2007, and which paid $102,000 a year.
In a letter to the editor this week, published on Page A-8 in this edition, Schaller wrote that “the will of the [St. Mary’s County] commissioners was for me not to continue as director of economic and community development. Completely shocked, I chose to resign.”
Schaller said this week he wrote the email “in the spirit of friendship” to Martirano and was not trying to change the outcome of the bid.
“In a matter of a few hours” after Schaller forwarded the email to County Administrator John Savich the next day, Schaller said this week, a closed-door commissioners meeting was scheduled for the following Tuesday.
Savich this week confirmed the Feb. 29 email to Martirano led to the March 6 executive session and said, “As public servants we need to be held to very high standards because we carry positions of trust. The email speaks for itself. We’re dealing with public money; it’s not ours.”
In retrospect, writing the email “was a dumb thing for me to do,” Schaller said this week.
Bob Schaller’s wife, Wendy, wrote an email Monday to the county commissioners that said her husband “was told by the county administrator he had committed an ethic violation.”
“He never got to talk to the commissioners,” Wendy Schaller said in an interview.
In her email, she wrote, “the only evidence was an e-mail that could have been tampered with! He was advocating the new policy changes the county had put in place for local businesses to compete and he was informing [public schools] of the changes …”
The county commissioners, on a 4-1 vote on Feb. 14, started a local vendor preference for business with county government. A local vendor can win a contract even though the bid is not the lowest, with a cost differential of 10 percent or $50,000.
The school system does not have a local vendor preference and awards contracts to the lowest qualified bid.
In his Feb. 29 email to Martirano, Bob Schaller wrote, “I’m confident the school system will award the propane gas contract to the best offeror. Whatever the outcome, I would ask that you and the [board of education] consider reexamining your procurement policy in light of the recent changes adopted by the county relative to local vendor preference.”
Wendy Schaller this week said her husband’s email was just the last thing in a long list of things Bob Schaller had done to irritate Savich and Commission President Jack Russell (D).
“In the end what this is really about is that President Russell and county administrator wanted and needed to get rid of Bob for their own political reasons,” her Monday email said.
“Bob loved his job so much and he gave it his heart and soul [seven] days a week almost 24 hours a day and it showed in all he did for the county,” she wrote.
Only Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) reached out to the Schallers after the resignation, which becomes official on June 6, Wendy Schaller said. Morgan said Monday it would be a betrayal of trust of confidentiality to discuss what happened during the closed-door meeting of March 6.
“It’s executive session,” Russell said Monday. “The man resigned.”
Bob Schaller noted that he is the fifth department head to leave county government since the 2010 election. Karen Everett, public information officer, and David Zylak, director of public safety, were dismissed in March 2011. Derick Berlage, director of land use and growth management, left in July 2011. Phil Rollins, director of recreation and parks, retired as of April 1.
Department directors used to have two-year-term contracts, but those were changed last July so that department heads serve at the will of the commissioners. Department heads are entitled to 90 days notice of termination now.
“They’re anything but a contract now,” Bob Schaller said. “There’s no rights at all for the employee, but I signed it because it was something to sign.”
He said he has applied for jobs with Charles County government and the St. Mary’s County public school system.