The county attorney has ruled that Harford's director of economic development did not violate financial disclosure laws when he failed tolist on a financial statement court judgments filed against him for unpaid business loans.
The new economic development director, James D. Fielder Jr., at the request of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, amended his statement last week to include information on the outstanding loans. He says on the amended statement the liens total at least $207,000.
Fielder came under fire two weeks ago when The Harford County Sunreported that the Bank of Maryland-Harford County filed judgments against him in Harford Circuit Court for loans to WHRF-AM, a Bel Air radio station that Fielder owned two years ago.
Despite the controversy, Rehrmann said in a three-page memo to County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson that she will stand by Fielder.
"This was, in essence, a private business transaction of Mr. Fielder's that did not quite pan out as everyone had hoped," Rehrmann said in the May 31 memo."I have been impressed with Mr. Fielder's work so far and he retainsmy full faith and confidence in his abilities."
Rehrmann wrote the memo to Wilson on May 31 in response to his request for informationabout the loans.
Wilson said he plans to move ahead with a draft revision of the county's ethics codes, expected to be finished this week. It would, if approved, require candidates for county jobs to provide more detailed information on their financial backgrounds, said Wilson.
Other than strengthening the ethics codes, Wilson said he and other council members have no power to take action against Fielderfor not informing county officials about the court judgments.
"The council, once having confirmed an appointment, does not have any recourse," Wilson said. "From this point, (Rehrmann) has assumed responsibility for Mr. Fielder."
While interviewing for the economic development job, Fielder told Rehrmann that he had "some possible continuing obligations" regarding the radio station, according to the executive's memo.
Fielder, however, did not tell Rehrmann or County Attorney Emory Plitt that those obligations involved the liens, Rehrmannsaid.
The executive told Wilson that she referred the matter to Plitt to determine whether Fielder complied with financial disclosure rules and what, if any, action should be taken.
"Mr. Fielder has not violated the letter of the financial disclosure laws," Rehrmann said in the memo to Wilson.
"In retrospect, however, it would have been much better if Mr. Fielder had voluntarily disclosed these matters in . . . the financial disclosure form," Rehrmann said in the memo.
After reviewing the court files and Fielder's personal papers involving the loans, Plitt advised Rehrmann that Fielder did not violatethe disclosure rules, according to the memo.
Despite Plitt's ruling, Wilson said he believes Fielder violated the "spirit" of the rules.
The bank's judgments were filed against Fielder on March 5 and May 15. The County Council confirmed Fielder's appointment to the economic development post on May 14.
The bank contends in its judgments that it is owed about $213,000. Fielder said in his amended disclosure that the two loans total $207,777.
The loans were made to thecurrent owners of WHRF, but Fielder and his wife, Patricia, served as guarantors of the loans. Guarantors are ultimately responsible for repayment of loans.
In addition to the Fielders, the bank names Impax Inc., Stephen and Susan Zachary, and David and Gloria Green, all of Baltimore County, in the judgments.
Impax, the Zacharys and theGreens -- the current owners of the station -- are attempting to sell the business.