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Troxell says his dismissal about politics, not performance

April 23, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Timothy R. Troxell
File photo

Ousted Washington County economic development executive director Timothy R. Troxell said Monday that the county’s decision seemed to be about politics, not performance.

Troxell, who was dismissed by the county on Wednesday after nearly 10 years as Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission executive director, issued a statement Monday describing the dismissal and criticizing the county for a series of EDC-related actions he called “detrimental to the department’s mission.”

The statement and a subsequent phone interview marked Troxell’s first public comments about the dismissal.

Troxell said County Administrator Gregory B. Murray informed him Wednesday that the Board of County Commissioners voted to eliminate the executive director position.

Troxell said Murray told him a majority of the commissioners wanted to take economic development in a different direction and to restructure the department.

“I was thanked for my service and offered a severance package,” Troxell wrote.

The county agreed to pay Troxell’s salary and benefits through June 30, county spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher said.

In addition, the county already paid for Troxell’s expenses to participate in Leadership Maryland and agreed not to withdraw that funding, Sprecher said.

Leadership Maryland is an eight-month statewide program to develop informed senior-level leaders.

Troxell said he was taken by surprise by Commissioner John F. Barr’s comment in a Thursday Herald-Mail story that there had “been some concerns ... that some of the commissioners and the county administrator have had for many months.”

“What I want my friends, business associates and the general public to know is that this decision by the county appears to be all about politics — and not about performance,” Troxell wrote. “In my 10 years as executive director, I have always managed and operated the EDC with professionalism — and have a sterling reputation throughout the profession. In addition, I have always received ‘outstanding’ performance appraisals from the county administrator.”

While declining to speak about particular individuals, Troxell said in his statement that “the view of a vocal minority can sway the vote of a county commissioner,” and said he believes this happened several times over the past 12 to 18 months to the detriment of economic development goals. As examples, he cited the county’s decision to eliminate the position of EDC marketing specialist, the months spent revising the EDC ordinance and the appointment of “divisive members” to the EDC board.

In November, Shelby H. Penn resigned as EDC chairwoman, alleging that new appointee Ronald Bowers was overzealous and obstructionist and was falsely accusing staff of not doing their jobs.

Asked about the tone within the EDC board, Troxell said over the past year or so, “the focus has not been on the vision and mission and goals of what the organization is really there to do.”

“In my time there as director, I was all about building a team, and that included not just staff, but that included all our public and private-sector partners,” Troxell said.

The tone over the past year or so “hasn’t improved our relationships with our partners,” he said.

Since the decision last week, Murray and several of the commissioners have mentioned an increased focus on small business as part of the new structure and direction they envision for the EDC.

“It’s not that we weren’t doing things for small business,” Troxell said Monday. “It’s just that that was not the main focus of the EDC.”

Troxell said the EDC balanced its focus between five areas: retention and growth of existing businesses, attracting new businesses with an emphasis on targeted industries, work-force development, infrastructure, and promoting cooperation between the public and private sectors.

The office was structured so that the deputy director focused most on promoting the county to potential companies while Troxell supported and worked with existing companies, he said.

Under his direction, Troxell said, the EDC office’s efforts to support local businesses included making local business visits, distributing helpful information, recognizing businesses at awards events, and working as an ombudsman for local companies going through the permitting and planning process.

Troxell noted that he had, in effect, 18 bosses: 12 EDC members, five commissioners and the county administrator.

“Obviously, with that number of people, there are differing views all the time, so you try to build a consensus and create a vision and a mission that the consensus is willing to move forward on, and that was what we were doing,” he said.

Troxell said he doesn’t feel responsible for the county not landing a 1.3-million-square-foot Macy’s fulfillment center that ended up in Berkeley County, W.Va., or a Norfolk Southern rail-truck project that ended up in Greencastle, Pa.

“There were specific circumstances to those projects that led them to other locations,” Troxell said.

Washington County did not have a site available that met the Macy’s specifications, he said.

Troxell said he was not sure the county had an appropriate parcel for the Norfolk Southern project, either, but “there wasn’t really a strong push for us to even go after that project, to my knowledge, because of the tremendous amount of truck traffic that was going to be generated.”

Troxell said in his statement that during his time as executive director, the department has been involved in the recruitment and expansion of more than 11,800 jobs and an increased tax base of $1.3 billion.

“Even in this difficult economy, 35 projects were announced last year that will help create over 1,250 jobs and nearly $125 million in tax base,” he wrote.

Counting Troxell’s departure, at least six of Maryland’s 23 counties have changed EDC leadership within the past two years or so, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood has said.

“Any time that the economy is not doing as well as normal, economic development directors are always in a very precarious spot,” Troxell said.

He said he is not sure what his next career move will be.

“I guess my decision that I need to make is to decide whether I want to continue in the economic development profession or if I want to utilize my skills in a different manner in the private sector,” he said.

Troxell was scheduled to lead a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues forum on the county’s economic development May 2.

In his place, Murray, Commissioner William B. McKinley and EDC Chairman Hal Lucas will lead a discussion on “current achievements, the economic climate, and the focus and the future of economic development in Washington County,” the chamber announced Monday.

That event is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. at Ramada Plaza Hotel and costs $15 for chamber members, and $20 for nonmembers and registrations after April 27.

More information about the event is available at the chamber website, www.hagerstown.org.

Troxell’s written statement

The following is the text of a written statement by Tim Troxell, former executive director of the Hagerstown/Washington County Economic Development Commission:

“On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, County Administrator Greg Murray informed me that the Washington County Board of Commissioners had voted to eliminate the Executive Director position within the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission. He explained that a majority of the Commissioners wanted to take economic development in a different direction and they would be determining a new structure moving forward. I was thanked for my service and offered a severance package.

After reading the April 19th story published by the Herald-Mail, I felt the need to respond. The quotes regarding ‘concerns for many months’ and ‘advertising for a replacement’ took me by complete surprise. What I want my friends, business associates, and the general public to know is that this decision by the County appears to be all about Politics — and not about Performance. In my 10 years as Executive Director, I have always managed and operated the EDC with professionalism — and have a sterling reputation throughout the profession. In addition, I have always received “Outstanding” Performance Appraisals from the County Administrator.

When I accepted the EDC Director position back in 2002, I understood the job could be political at times. What many may not realize, is that the view of a vocal minority can sway the vote of a County Commissioner — and I believe that has happened concerning the EDC and its Board over the past 12-18 months. Decisions like eliminating the position of EDC Marketing Specialist, adding divisive members to the EDC Board, spending months revising the EDC Ordinance, and other such actions were detrimental to the department’s mission of assisting existing businesses and attracting jobs and investment to the county.

On a more positive note, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with and for the citizens and businesses of Washington County (and the entire QuadCo region) for the past 13 years and am very proud of the accomplishments of the EDC.

In my 10 years as Executive Director, the department has been involved in the recruitment and expansion of over 11,800 jobs and an increased tax base of $1.3 billion. Even in this difficult economy, 35 projects were announced last year that will help create over 1,250 jobs and nearly $125 million in tax base.

I have personally enjoyed working with companies such as, Cinetic Landis, Citi, DOT Foods, Dynamark Monitoring, FedEx Ground, First Data, Home Depot, ITEM, JLG, Lenox, Lowe’s, Mack Truck/Volvo Powertrain, MEC Inc., Mountainside Teleport, National Golden Tissue, NETCONN Solutions/General Dynamics, Pavestone, Phoenix Color, Potomac Edison, Rampf Molds, Sierra Nevada Corp., Staples, Susquehanna Bancshares, Tractor Supply, T. Rowe Price, V-T Industries, and many others that have created jobs and made investments in Washington County. It has been a very rewarding experience.

I have also had the pleasure of working with many extremely committed and talented EDC staff members whom I greatly respect. They have secured millions of State and Federal dollars to support business and have also helped the department win many accolades over the years including: Maryland Economic Development awards for Top Project, Top Marketing Event, Top Workforce Development Initiative, and superior utilization of Recovery Zone Facility Bonds; Site Selections “Top 10” List; Expansion Solutions “Top 5” List; and becoming an Accredited Economic Development Organization to name just a few.

In addition, the department has always been on the leading edge of creating and supporting new initiatives and policies that support business growth. Examples include: Businesses that Create New Jobs Tax Credit; Recovery Zone Facility Bond program; Pad-Ready Sites program; Enterprise Zone expansion; Fast Track Construction Program; Job Attraction & Creation program; One Maryland legislation; and recognition events such as the Celebration of Business, the Washington County Business Awards, and the Economic Summit.

In closing, I have felt very honored to have served the citizens of Washington County and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Tim Troxell

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