John Hammond's dilemma

December 23, 1993

The county has found a way to give Annapolis Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, a little time to decide which he should give up: his city post or the county's offer of a $76,871 job as its financial officer.

That's fine -- as long as a little time doesn't turn into forever.

Mr. Hammond had accepted the job when he was told the state constitution prohibits him from holding two public offices at the same time. Though not an elected position, financial officer is a high-ranking, cabinet-level job, thus qualifying as a public office. For a city alderman to be one of the county's top decision-makers is clearly a conflict of interest.

Mr. Hammond, who left his old job Dec. 3, was going back and forth about what to do when the county found a way to give him some breathing room. It hired him for three weeks as a financial consultant to review pension investments. It paid him $4,800 -- a pro-rating of the salary he would receive if he were, indeed, financial officer. County Attorney Judson Garrett says there's no constitutional problem because a consultant isn't considered a public officer.

There's no doubt Mr. Hammond faces a difficult decision. His desire for some time to think it over and seek an opinion from the attorney general is understandable. If the county wants to pay him for his expertise for three weeks while he makes up his mind and, as Mr. Garrett says, there's no constitutional conflict, we don't object.

But this arrangement shouldn't go on any longer than that. If the county extends Mr. Hammond's contract, it will look like officials are trying to make him financial officer in all but name. It will look like the county is trying to dance around the constitution to let Mr. Hammond have his cake and eat it, too.

It would be the kind of finagling that makes people distrust

government.

During the recent city election campaign, the Hammond camp made much of the fact that his opponent, architect Craig Purcell, faced a potential conflict of interest because he sometimes appears before city boards and commissions to pursue his projects. It would be hypocritical for Mr. Hammond to accept an arrangement with the county that would leave him open to the very same charges. He has to make up his mind.

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