New Jersey's highest-paid employee has resigned as chief operating officer of one of the nation's poorest and most dangerous cities, Camden's mayor said yesterday.

Judge Theodore Z. Davis, appointed as Camden's chief operating officer by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2007, will officially step down Aug. 31, a spokesman for Corzine said, and no decision on a replacement will be made before then.

"The governor is grateful for Judge Davis' tireless efforts to help usher in much-needed change and improvements to the city of Camden," said Corzine spokesman Robert Corrales.

Davis, a retired Superior Court judge who made $220,000 in the Camden job, could not be reached for comment and did not notify the news media of his decision.

But Mayor Gwendolyn Faison did. In a statement yesterday, Faison said Davis realized that Camden's problems were "deeper than he thought," but she didn't offer an explanation for why he is stepping down before the end of his term.

"There is no secret that the relationship between the mayor and the chief operating officer has been a bumpy one," said Faison, who is not seeking re-election this fall. "Nonetheless, I can say that overall Judge Davis' influence on the city was a positive one."

Some elected officials praised Davis for making tough decisions while bringing public and private development to the city.

"He didn't go out seeking the job," said Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash, a former partner of Davis' at the Cozen O'Connor law firm. "I think Judge Davis has done a very good job as the COO under difficult circumstances. Under his leadership, Camden city has seen some economic growth."

Nash said that Davis had earned "every penny" of his salary. But some other observers said that Davis, a lifelong Camden resident, had given up.

"It it immoral for this man to quit with two years to go," said mayoral candidate and activist Angel Cordero.

"We're in a car with no brakes, and he bails out and leaves the car running."

In an unprecedented move in 2002, Gov. James E. McGreevey signed the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act for Camden, including $175 million for economic growth and creation of a chief operating officer to supervise local government and education.

Former Camden Mayor Melvin "Randy" Primas was appointed as the city's first COO; he resigned in 2006.

Davis was appointed in 2007, the same year Corzine extended the takeover for five years. Davis recently was quoted as saying that the takeover should be extended until 2030 and that elected city officials didn't have the "guts" to make tough choices.

City Council President Angel Fuentes said that transitioning from the courtroom to politics was not easy for Davis, but that they had developed a good working relationship.

"We reached a level of compromise and he would often meet us halfway," Fuentes said. "I think he realized that the city is not going revitalize itself overnight."

Dana Redd, the frontrunner to succeed Faison as mayor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.