Gray bills county for $4,606 in car-phone calls

December 03, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

When Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray is on the road, he's also on the phone, according to county reimbursement records.

Mr. Gray, D-3rd, has billed the county for $4,606 during the past 16 months for calls he has made from his car phone. His total amount of reimbursed expenses -- $8,311 -- was nearly half of the $17,435 the county has reimbursed the five council members from July 1, 1991, to Oct. 31 of this year.

"If it were not for the car phone, I could not respond as quickly as I do," Mr. Gray said. "More than any other council member, I return as many calls as I can and respond quickly. Before having the phone, I knew every phone booth and convenience store between Washington, Annapolis and Baltimore.

Mr. Gray's reimbursement is 48 percent of the total and 55 percent of the $15,065 he and Democrats Paul R. Farragut and Shane Pendergrass received.

Altogether, the three Democrats received six times as much in expense reimbursements as Darrel Drown and Charles C. Feaga, the two Republicans on the council.

Mr. Gray's request for car phone reimbursement was $2,960 more than the next most talkative council member -- Ms. Pendergrass -- asked for. Together, Mr. Gray and Ms. Pendergrass accounted for 72 percent of the $8,655 that the county reimbursed council members for use of their car phones.

Mr. Farragut's reimbursement for car phones was $1,027, followed by Mr. Drown with $808 and Mr. Feaga with $566.

"When I came on the council, I was told we were facing tough economic times," Mr. Drown said. "I have trying to hold my costs down to basics and not submit everything."

Mr. Drown said he has seen some of these numbers that his Democratic colleagues were posting and found them "pretty frightening."

"I don't like to trash my opponents," he said, "but I think it has to do with the perks of incumbency. The focus is outside of necessary government -- a little bit further out than it should be."

Mr. Gray said his car phone reimbursement figure is misleading because he does some reimbursing of his own. He said he had been paying the county about $100 a month for personal calls, although he has not paid anything in the past six months.

The reason for the six-month hiatus, he said, is that he and other council members did not receive bills during that time because of a mix-up in the finance office. He received a bill the other day, he said, and plans to write the county a check for the personal portion of his car phone bill.

Mr. Gray says his work as president of the Maryland Association of Counties and as a member of the MACO board of directors often require him to make long trips in his car. He says uses the car phone to answer calls and check in with the County Council office.

In addition to his MACO duties, Mr. Gray also has responsibilities with the National Association of Counties, serving as a member of the Health Advisory Committee. He also chaired the drug task force and the education committee, and is serving on the taxation and finance steering committee.

That work has enhanced his abilities and knowledge as a council member, Mr. Gray said, and have helped him sponsor important legislation dealing with smoking, housing, drugs and health.

"It is obvious that those interactions benefit the county through my involvement there," he said. "I am more involved than other council member. I know what the issues are. If I did nothing I would have no expenses."

Mr. Gray said his involvement with MACO and NACO also account for his topping other council members in car, meals and travel reimbursements. He has received 33 percent of the car mileage money, 86 percent of the meal money, and 71 percent of the transportation reimbursement.

Those figures would be even higher, he said, if he did not pay for some of his own expenses. He said he is paying his own expense for trips to Reno and Memphis to attend conferences he believes will improve his competence and development as a council member.

Ms. Pendergrass ranked second behind Mr. Gray in total expenses reimbursed, receiving 20 percent of the total with $3,543. She was the leader in home phone use for government purposes, asking for a repayment of $370.

Ms. Pendergrass could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Farragut was third in reimbursements, receiving $3,210, or 18 percent of the total. He was the third highest car phone user behind Mr. Gray and Ms. Pendergrass, but he was number one in meeting expenses with $1,278.

Mr. Farragut said the meeting expense occurred because constituents have to meet him at his work at the port of Baltimore. He said he usually takes constituents to lunch. In addition, he has picked up the tab for snacks and beverages for various county committees he has worked with as council chairman, he said.

"Charlie [Feaga] and Darrel [Drown] work closer to their constituents and don't have the expenses like mileage and phones that some of the others of us have," he said. "Some of us are more active than others, attending more meetings."

Ms. Pendergrass was second in meeting expenses with $181, followed by Mr. Gray with $65 and Mr. Drown with $5. Mr. Feaga did not list any meeting expenses.

Mr. Feaga asked for the least reimbursement -- $747 -- 4 percent of the total. He asked to be reimbursed $150 for car expenses and $566 for use of his car phone.

He said he did not submit expense requests for meals. "You have to eat anyway, and I don't think it's fair to ask the county to pay for that," he said.

Mr. Drown accounted for 9 percent of the reimbursement money, getting back a total of $1,623. He had the third highest mileage expense -- $809 -- and ranked fourth among car phone users with a bill of $808.

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