Schaefer's Nomination Of Cox Stands, Despite State Probe

April 21, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

A spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer said the governor has no plans to withdraw his nomination of former Delegate William H. Cox Jr. to a post with the state Transportation Authority following reports that Cox is under investigation by the state prosecutor's office.

A vote on William H. Cox Jr.'s nomination to the post was tabled earlier this month by the state Senate after it was learned that the former delegate is under investigation for his ties to a proposed rubble and asbestos dump, said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-District 32.

Wagner, who chaired the committee considering Cox's appointment, said a decision on the appointment was tabled after the committee wastold that Cox is being investigated by the state prosecutor's officefor his role in Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc.'s plans for an asbestos and rubble dump near Havre de Grace.

Cox is one of four guarantors on an $800,000 loan Maryland Reclamation received to buy a 55-acre tract on Gravel Hill Road for the rubble fill.

"It's not unusual for anybody involved in politics and business to be under investigation," said Wagner, chairman of the Senate Executive Nominating Committee, which considered the Cox appointment. "There can't be a presumption of wrongdoing," Wagner said.

Welford McLellan, a governor's spokesman, said: "The governor wouldn't nominate someone and thenwithdraw his name because of an investigation. There's no presumption of guilt just because there's an investigation." Harford Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr., D-District 34, said a representative of the prosecutor's office confirmed to a state Senate aide that the prosecutor wasinvestigating Cox. Freeman declined to identify the Senate aide.

Cox did not return five telephone calls to his office and home last week. A reporter also went to his office. Paige Cox, the former delegate's wife, said her husband was out of town when she was reached at Cox's office by telephone Friday.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said, "I'd rather not discuss anything we're doing or have done on this matter."

But Michael Sullivan, spokesman for the state Department of the Environment, said at least one department administrator, John C. Lawther, chief of the Hazardous and Solid Waste Division, was questioned about Cox and the rubble dump by state prosecutors. Sullivan declined to say what the investigators asked the administrators and would not give details about the questioning.

Then-Delegate Cox and Maryland Reclamation president Richard D. Schafer met with Lawther and another top Environment Department administrator to learn about the state permit process for rubble fills.

Cox's appointment to the state Transportation Authority was endorsed by the nominating committee during the last days of the General Assembly session, whichended April 8, said Wagner, of Anne Arundel County.

The full Senate was about to vote on the appointment, but in stead sent the nomination back to the committee when it was learned that Cox was under investigation, Wagner said.

"With the senate having knowledge of thisinvestigation, there was some uneasiness about proceeding with the appointment," Wagner said.

Freeman, of Joppa, said he learned that investigators were reviewing Cox's bank records after the former delegate's nomination was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. He declined to provide further details about the investigation.

Cox was the real estate broker who represented Maryland Reclamation in the deal to purchase the proposed site for the dump. It was not learned that hewas one of the company's loan guarantors until depositions were taken in a lawsuit between the company and the county.

Cox was defeated in his re-election bid last fall after serving 20 years as a delegate. Political observers said Cox's role in the rubble fill was the main reason for his defeat.

Cox, who as a delegate sat on several committees that dealt with transportation issues, was nominated to filla vacancy on the Transportation Authority by Gov. Schaefer, said Wagner. The six-member Transportation Authority, formed in 1970, oversees the John F. Kennedy Highway, theFort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels, and four toll bridges.

Members of the authority are not paid, though they are reimbursed for traveling expenses.

Wagner saidCox, a real estate broker and land developer, can still take the jobuntil the senate formally acts on the nomination. The senate will vote on the nomination either during a special session this September or in next year's session, Wagner said.

During a hearing March 25, one of two such hearings, state Sen. William H. Amoss, D-District 35A, endorsed Cox for the appointment, Wagner said. Freeman spoke against the appointment April 1.

Freeman said he opposed Cox's appointment because of differences he had with Cox over land development projects during his tenure as county executive between 1982 and 1990.

"(Cox) was involved in a lot of things that were a problem to the county," Freeman said. "All in all, I thought it was not a good appointment."

Amoss said he favored Cox for the authority job because of the former delegate's experience with transportation issues.

"Freeman and Cox are political enemies," Wagner said. "You have to understand that. They're on different sides of the political fence."

Harford staff reporter Carol Bowers contributed to this story.

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