Chapin gives up finance chairmanship

December 23, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Westminster City Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. has given up his chairmanship of the finance committee to avoid a possible conflict of interest with his new role as landlord of an apartment complex where some tenants receive federal housing assistance.

Mr. Chapin and his son, Stephen R. Chapin Jr., bought Ye Village Green apartment complex at Sullivan and Schaffer avenues last month. Five tenants in the 39-unit complex -- three of them elderly women -- receive subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The purchase put Mr. Chapin in violation of regulations that bar elected city officials from receiving HUD money, said Bill Tamburrino, director of public housing for the agency's Baltimore office.

The city government is awaiting a decision from HUD on whether the tenants will have to move.

Mr. Tamburrino said HUD's lawyers are studying information from the city about local ethics laws and whether they apply to Mr. Chapin's situation. Mr. Tamburrino said he hopes to have a decision next month.

Mr. Chapin said he changed committee assignments on the advice of city attorney John B. Walsh Jr.

"I was advised by legal counsel that to erase any possible conflict, it would be better if I gave up the finance chairmanship," the councilman said.

He said the city attorney saw nothing in Westminster's ethics code that would bar him from continuing to serve on the council.

"I talked to the council president, the mayor and our legal counsel, and everybody scrutinized it and said there's no violation," Mr. Chapin said.

He switched assignments with Councilman Edward S. Calwell, who headed the public utilities committee.

Mr. Calwell called the swap "serendipitous." He said the idea came out of a conversation in which the two men decided a change "would be good for both of us."

The finance committee chairman reviews all bills submitted to the city, but Finance Director Stephen V. Dutterer said the review does not involve authorizations for payments. The mayor and city department heads authorize payments, he said.

As a member of the council, the finance chairman also votes to approve payments of bills, which would put Mr. Chapin in the position of voting to approve payments to himself if a vote were required before bills could be paid.

But Mr. Dutterer said the voting does not affect payments. "The bills have already been paid" by the time the council approves such actions, he said.

He said he doesn't know why the council votes on the expenditures, but the practice existed when he joined the city staff in 1977.

Westminster's ethics code forbids elected officials from participating "on behalf of the city in any matter which would have a direct financial impact on them . . . except in the exercise of routine administrative duties."

However, the code allows officials, as employees or investors in private businesses, to sell goods or services to the city government.

David S. Babylon Jr., chairman of the city ethics commission, said the matter has not been referred to his commission for an opinion.

Mr. Chapin said he did not go to the city ethics commission because he had taken the issue to the council president, mayor and city attorney.

Mr. Walsh billed the city $850 in November for legal research on the impact of the apartment purchase on city government. He charges Westminster $100 per hour for his services.

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