Annapolis official has tough choice

December 03, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Annapolis Alderman John Hammond, appointed Anne Arundel County financial officer earlier this week, is facing an agonizing decision.

County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. says the state constitution prohibits Mr. Hammond from holding the county job, which pays $76,871, and his seat on the city council, which earns him $8,500.

Now the Ward 1 Republican must make what he calls "a gut-wrenching decision," weighing what he sees as his commitment to the constituents who re-elected him just a month ago against his financial responsibility to his family.

"You don't know how tough this is for me," said Mr. Hammond, who was first elected in 1977.

He has not made a decision and could not say when he would, but added, "it will be done as quickly as possible."

Mr. Garrett said he learned of the appointment Tuesday afternoon, about the same time it was made public.

"I was consulted after the appointment was made," Mr. Garrett said. "I did some research and came to the conclusion that the constitution, and particularly the Declaration of Rights, does not permit an individual to occupy both of these offices at the same time."

Article 35 of the Declaration of Rights states: "No person shall hold, at the same time, more than one office of profit, created by the Constitution or Laws of this State."

Mr. Garrett knew that the provision applied to top county officials appointed by the executive. But when he consulted case law, he decided that the courts also included municipal officials as holding offices of profit.

Mr. Garrett concluded that if Mr. Hammond assumed the position of county financial officer on Dec. 30, he would automatically vacate his City Council position.

The county attorney told Mr. Hammond of his opinion Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, Mr. Hammond consulted former city attorney Jonathan Hodgson, who remains on the city's legal staff on a contractual basis. Mr. Hodgson came to the same conclusion, but based his opinion on case law rather than on the constitution.

"My assessment of these two positions is that they are in fact incompatible," Mr. Hodgson said. "It's my opinion that an alderman cannot continue to hold that office and accept a position with the county government."

County Council Chairman David G. Boschert said he, too, had an inkling that there was a conflict. He sent a letter to Mr. Garrett's office yesterday morning, asking that an opinion on the legality of Mr. Hammond's appointment be delivered to the council by Monday.

"I feel that although Mr. Hammond is qualified for the position, he has to give serious consideration to resigning his seat because of conflict of interest," Mr. Boschert said.

Mr. Hammond said that although "the general issue of conflict of interest had been raised" before his appointment -- because of the many financial dealings the county has with Annapolis -- the issue of constitutionality never came up.

Mr. Hammond said he feels that he has a moral commitment to the residents of Ward 1, which includes Annapolis' historic district, because they re-elected him by such a large margin.

"I asked them for their support with the understanding that I would support them for four years," he said.

"But on the other hand, I have a strong obligation to take care of my family's welfare," said Mr. Hammond, whose last day as an executive vice president with a Long Island insurance company is today.

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