HELENA - Two key members of Gov. Judy Martz's staff resigned Tuesday in what an administration official called a "mutual understanding" recognizing the need for new staffers more in tune with Martz's thinking.
Mary Jo Fox, communications director, and Anastasia Burton, press secretary, began cleaning out their desks by early evening. The resignations were effective immediately, said Ed Bartlett, chief of staff.
He said neither woman was asked to resign or threatened with firing.
The resignations were not the result of poor work by Fox or Burton, but were offered and accepted after he met separately with Fox and Burton to tell them the administration wants the communications office to take a "different direction," Bartlett said.
He said the communications office and the governor have to be more synchronized. "The communication persons and the governor have to work hand in hand, instinctively and closely, with anticipation and all of those things," he said.
Fox said she understands the concern and that Martz did not believe the communications staff could achieve that goal.
"Anyone who goes to work for a governor has to understand the governor has to have full confidence in that person, and that that may change at any time," she said.
A governor has an obligation to make changes when confidence in staff is lacking, Fox said. "It's not a weakness or sign of trouble in an administration. Sometimes a good leader is a good leader because they're able to recognize where changes need to be made to prevent them from becoming problems."
But Fox's version of her meeting with Bartlett differed from his.
She said she was given the chance to resign rather than be fired, and that the decision of the administration caught her by surprise.
Burton did not return a phone call to her office.
Tuesday's resignations came about a month after Martz, who took office in January, fired her appointment scheduler because of what the administration said was poor performance. All three employees were part of Martz's personal staff and serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Bartlett emphasized that neither he nor the governor were dissatisfied with the work of Fox and Burton or blamed them for any problems the administration may have had.
"There isn't anything that either she or I were unhappy with," he said. "There is nothing particularly wrong with what we're doing now. No blame, no wrongdoing, no poor performance. They did everything that was asked of them.
"Instinctively, we're determining that we need a change in communications."
While the resignations were neither sought nor expected, Bartlett said, "I accept that's the right thing for this office."
Bartlett acknowledged that policy director Shane Hedges, who managed Martz's gubernatorial campaign last year, will be a better fit in the communications office because he knows Martz better than anyone else on the staff.
Bartlett said a decision will be made later on hiring a new press secretary.
Both Fox and Burton held their same jobs in the previous administration of Gov. Marc Racicot, when Martz was lieutenant governor.
Fox, 39, was communications director for Racicot's 1992 gubernatorial campaign and managed his 1996 re-election bid. She was an adviser to Racicot during most of his second term, taking over as communications chief in 1999.
Burton, 35, became press secretary for Racicot in 1998 after three years as public information officer for the Department of Public Health and Human Services.