Phony issue in Howard


December 07, 1992

When public representatives abuse for personal gain the power that we invest in them, we get as disgusted as anyone.

Whether it be a powerful senator such as Phil Gramm getting a Texas builder to cut him a cushy deal on an Eastern Shore vacation spread, or a member of the Columbia Council ignoring conflicts of interest to vote on a proposed golf course next to his home, the newspaper takes a dim view of such actions. But we have trouble mustering much disfavor for Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray over his car phone bill.

A recent Evening Sun story by reporter James M. Coram on council expense vouchers described how Mr. Gray's request for reimbursement of about $8,300 over a 16-month period was the most among his colleagues. That included $4,600 for car phone bills and nearly $900 for business meals.

We were incensed when the then-economic development director in Baltimore County spent $900 in alleged business meals in a matter of weeks last spring, but over a year and a third, Mr. Gray's bills, in a $270 million budget, are chump change.

At the county level, Mr. Gray is among the more active and responsive politicians, not just in Howard, but in the state. He recently served as president of the Maryland Association of Counties and is active in the national county organization as well.

To criticize a politician for wearing out too much shoe leather wouldn't make sense.

Truth be told, we were more put off by the comments of another council member, Darrel Drown, who said of the teapot tempest, "I don't like to trash my opponents, BUT . . ."

Whoever said Mr. Gray was an opponent of Mr. Drown in this matter?

Mr. Drown crowed after county voters embraced his initiative for term limits, but he apparently missed the other message of Election Day, that voters are sick of partisan sniping. Mr. Drown apparently sees the use of an expense account as the same thing as the abuse of an expense account.

One might even question whether Mr. Drown is active enough as a councilman, so meager was the amount charged to his travel account. (The oddest line item of all in the reimbursement report was Mr. Drown's claim for meeting expenses over the 16 months: a mere $5.)

We don't like our politicians to be fat cats, but neither do we think that to make effective representatives they must be quiet mice nibbling on cheese.

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