Confirmation of Arnold for Planning Board likely

May 18, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray's former campaign treasurer breezed through his Planning Board confirmation hearing Monday night and is likely to win unanimous council approval for the position June 6.

Haskell N. Arnold, who resigned as Mr. Gray's campaign treasurer May 1, said after the hearing that his political ties should have no impact on the council's confirmation of him.

Any work he has done or might do for Mr. Gray or any other political figure is irrelevant, he said. He said his resignation as Mr. Gray's treasurer was not related to his Planning Board nomination.

"I've been doing it for five years and have been planning to step down for several months," he said.

Mr. Gray is a 3rd District Democrat running for re-election this fall.

Elected officials in both parties agree that Mr. Arnold's political connection with Mr. Gray should have no bearing on his Planning Board nomination. County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, nominated Mr. Arnold for the Planning Board seat last month knowing that Mr. Arnold was still campaign treasurer for Mr. Gray.

"I knew him in my former life," said Mr. Ecker, who was deputy superintendent in the county school system before his election as county executive. "I have a lot of admiration for his work, his ability and his intelligent, common sense approach to things. I thought he would be a good member of the Planning Board."

Planning Board members are appointed to five-year terms. One of the board's primary functions is to make land use decisions about Columbia. The board also reviews capital budget requests and makes recommendations to the County Council on the General Plan and other zoning matters.

Several other "well-qualified" people sought to fill the vacancy on the board, but "Haskell was the best choice," Mr. Ecker said.

Although Mr. Ecker knew that Mr. Arnold was Mr. Gray's treasurer, that "didn't enter our conversation one bit," Mr. Ecker said.

"It wasn't in my consideration. I didn't hold it against him and it was not in his favor. It was not an issue. I judged Haskell for the person he is."

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a 5th District Republican, offered Mr. Haskell a simple, "Welcome aboard," Monday night at Mr. Haskell's confirmation hearing.

Afterward, Mr. Feaga said Mr. Arnold "seems like a very congenial, very capable person. He lives in Columbia, which is important for dealing with new-town zoning. He is a good, fair choice."

Mr. Feaga said he was unaware of Mr. Arnold's political ties to Mr. Gray.

"That Chuck," he said. "I was telling someone just this morning that he appoints more Democrats than Republicans. As long as the person does a good job, Chuck doesn't seem to care. I've known all the county executives and none has been as nonpolitical as Chuck Ecker" when making appointments to boards and commissions.

That is not a perception shared by council Democrats. When Mr. Ecker nominated Republican Allan H. Kittleman for the county ethics commission two years ago, Democrats cried foul and accused Mr. Ecker of blatantly politicizing the appointment process.

They rejected Mr. Kittleman and later, Mr. Kittleman's stepmother, Trent Kittleman, as being too political for membership on the ethics commission.

The difference between that situation and the Arnold nomination, Democrats say, is that the ethics commission reviews campaign finances but the Planning Board does not.

Mr. Ecker said that both the Kittleman appointments and the Arnold appointment were nonpolitical. "I judge people on how they are, not who they are," he said.

"The council was unfair in accusing me [of politicizing the appointment process]. I am proud of the Republicans on the council that they did not raise [the same issue] about Haskell."

Mr. Gray said he was surprised when Mr. Ecker called him last month to discuss the Arnold nomination. "I was very gratified when he mentioned that he would be nominating someone so close to my campaign and, of course, I did not discourage him," Mr. Gray said.

"I applaud him for appointing a member [to the Planning Board] from each council district. It says a lot for him."

Mr. Gray noted that the late William Manning was also a politically active Democrat appointed by Mr. Ecker to the Planning Board. What the two had in common, Mr. Gray said, was their professionalism.

Mr. Arnold, who works for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and has served on the state Public Service Commission, has seen both sides of the issues, Mr. Gray said. "He would not be where he is today if it were not for his integrity and his ability," he said.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, said that "to preclude a volunteer [board member] because the person is politically active and works in a campaign is not right."

She said her only problem with the appointment is that Mr. Arnold does not live in her district.

No one has been appointed to the Planning Board from her district since 1986 when she first took office, Ms. Pendergrass said.

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