Tossing and Turning in Towson

May 08, 1992

In his 13 months as chairman of the Baltimore County Economic Development Commission, A. Samuel Cook lent the organization an air of respectability that allowed county government and business leaders to sleep a little better at night.

Those same leaders might be doing some serious tossing and turning since Mr. Cook resigned late last week, apparently over a clash with commission director Kenneth C. Nohe.

Named to the post last November by County Executive Roger Hayden, Mr. Nohe has focused a lot of attention on the commission. It's probably not the kind of publicity Mr. Hayden desires.

In January, ethical questions were raised when Mr. Nohe traveled to Wales on county business. Next, Mr. Nohe summarily fired three commission staffers, including two valued veterans.

Then, in late March, it was found that the director had spent more than $2,000 in county money on a series of official meetings at a posh restaurant. The expenses were legal, but they came as county workers were being furloughed and citizens were tightening their belts to pay their basic bills.

And now there's the resignation of Mr. Cook, a highly regarded senior partner at the law firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard. Mr. Nohe apparently was excluding Mr. Cook from the commission's policy-making process, perhaps paving the way for the chairman's departure. The director is said to be making commission decisions without consulting the members who are mandated by county law to set the organization's policies.

After the firings of the three commission staffers, Mr. Cook nearly resigned. However, he was talked into staying by Mr. Hayden, who still must have realized the importance of having Mr. Cook's name attached to the commission. The final straw for the chairman seems to have been a meeting last week between Mr. Nohe and other commission members, a meeting that Mr. Cook reportedly was not asked to attend.

As a county councilman remarked, Mr. Cook's resignation will buttress the belief among local business leaders that the government is "not friendly" to them. That's a problem for Roger Hayden, and the problem appears to grow with each new misadventure of his economic development director.

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