Madden urges adoption of his ethics proposal Disclosure bill gathers support at public hearing

November 06, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

In the Nov. 6 Howard section, a story incorrectly described documents about contributions to Councilman C. Vernon Gray that Del. Martin G. Madden distributed at a hearing.

The documents were computer-generated facsimiles of campaign contribution checks that Mr. Madden created.

People who want to rezone property in Howard County should disclose how much money they have contributed to the campaigns of local officials, because sometimes officials don't even know themselves.

That was one of several arguments Del. Martin G. Madden made to promote his ethics bill -- one of 20 pieces of proposed legislation presented during a public hearing last night.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Madden, R-13B, cited a recent example in which Zoning Board Vice Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass received $2,250 from contributors connected to a rezoning request pending before her. When informed of the connection, Ms. Pendergrass said it was the first she had heard of it.

"That's why we need this bill," said Mr. Madden. "I think the council members should know who gave them money." The County Council also serves as the Zoning Board.

Mr. Madden's bill would require anyone with a 5 percent interest in a zoning request to disclose whether he or she had given $500 or more to a zoning board member during a 48-month period.

Speaking from the audience, Jim Kraft, former head of the county Democratic Party, said he thought the bill did not go far enough. He pointed out that campaign contributors, perhaps a group like the Sierra Club, could give testimony at a zoning hearing and not have to disclose their connection.

"I think they have to be fair and across the board," Mr. Kraft said of the disclosure requirements.

Mr. Madden said that the bill would also help citizens identify who was behind sizable campaign contributions. To illustrate his point, Mr. Madden, a Republican from Clarksville, distributed photocopies of four campaign contribution checks to Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.

The checks, which totaled $1,580, all came from the same address in Baltimore. However, most of the contributors were businesses with slightly different names. For instance, one was called Canterbury II Limited Partnership; another was called Canterbury III Limited Partnership.

"I still don't know who controls these limited partnerships," Mr. Madden said.

State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, R-13, said the bill was appropriate, given the planned rezoning of eastern Howard County and public distrust of government.

"Many citizens have an all-time low opinion of government in general," said Mr. Yeager. "I think the bill is extremely timely."

During the evening, Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, presented a proposed bill that would allow the County Council to raise the marriage license fee by $10 to help support domestic violence programs in Howard. The current fee is $35.

In an interview with The Sun earlier this week, Mr. Madden had said he opposed the bill, in part, because he saw it as just another tax.

Mr. Kraft, speaking as the former president of the board of directors of the county Domestic Violence Center, strongly disagreed.

"The price of a marriage that doesn't work can never be measured," said Mr. Kraft, pointing out that domestic violence costs the government in other social services.

Among the approximately 50 people who attended last night's hearing, a proposed bill permitting a public referendum on any increase in the piggyback tax seemed particularly popular. Seth Layton, of the Howard County Taxpayers Association, said he supported the bill.

"All we want is the right to say yes or no," Mr. Layton said.

The county legislative delegation plans to meet again for a public hearing on the proposed bills Nov. 12 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard building in Ellicott City.

The delegation will start voting on the bills Nov. 18. Those that pass will be introduced in the General Assembly in January.

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