Politics and perception

May 17, 1991

Chuck Ecker confesses political inexperience, and thus it is no accident that his administration has been plagued by questions about the executive's ability to handle the tricky political curveballs thrown by those with vested interests in county policy.

Predictably, Ecker stumbled in the beginning -- first, by recommending developer John Mardall as his chief administrative officer, though Mardall's contracts with the county created the perception of a conflict of interest. And second, by appointing a close friend of Michael Davis, an Ecker campaign adviser, as personnel administrator, although her credentials remain in question.

Now come reports that Davis -- who was also co-chair of Ecker's transition team and currently heads a public panel drafting an adequate facilities ordinance -- was a registered lobbyist for a private concern, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and that he wrote to Ecker asking him to discuss alternatives to the amusement tax increase. Moreover, Ecker made special provisions for Merriweather when he proposed the tax hike in his budget. Under Ecker's plan, the increase will be effective for other entertainment concerns in July. But Merriweather will be exempt until Oct. 1 -- saving the promoter about $150,000.

Certainly, there are sound reasons to help Merriweather. And there were, of course, others besides Davis pushing the executive to give Merriweather a break; Ecker says he was swayed by a Rouse Co. official even before he received Davis' letter.

Regardless, the problem is one of perception -- of Ecker's proposing a tax break for a business which was paying one of his own insiders to lobby on its behalf. And in politics, perception is everything, because it is the foundation of the public trust -- which, regrettably, is quickly eroding in Howard.

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