Feaga backs off on Gray's phone bill Council limits members' expenses to $4,800 annually

October 11, 1995|By DAN MORSE | DAN MORSE,SUN STAFF

A day after talking tough about limiting cellular telephone use by Howard County Council members, council Chairman Charles C. Feaga agreed to a new policy that will allow member C. Vernon Gray to continue racking up $300 monthly bills.

Mr. Feaga also waffled on a vow to release complete cellular phone bills that would show exactly where Mr. Gray's calls are going.

A new, informal council policy approved yesterday sets a $4,800 limit for all expenses -- phones and travel. It replaces an informal agreement reached in April to limit each member's annual cellular phone expenses to $1,500.

After the meeting, Mr. Feaga said he didn't have the votes to take stronger action, adding that the new policy on expenses "doesn't give us the control I would have liked."

Mr. Gray, who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said later that he was tired of the subject of his expenses, adding, "I've just ceased to take part in a personal-attack sideshow.

"The Republicans haven't done anything substantial, so this is just a way to get their names in the paper," Mr. Gray, the council's leading Democrat, said of Mr. Feaga and the two other Republicans on the five-member body.

The new policy would force Mr. Gray to cut his travel expenses if he wants to continue to use his cellular phone at the rate that he has in the recent past.

According to council records obtained yesterday -- covering June of last year through May of this year -- the council has been charged as much as $539 a month for Mr. Gray's cellular phone use.

In the 12-month period up to the end of May, the council spent $4,583 on Mr. Gray's cellular phone calls, according to the records. During the same period, the county spent $1,590 for the other four council members' cellular phone use.

In the 10 months ending April 7 this year, Mr. Gray spent more than $2,990 on travel, according to council figures released last spring. During that period, the county spent $2,854 for the four other council members' travel.

In the past, Mr. Gray has said his high cellular phone total reflects the number of calls he makes to constituents during his 40-minute drives to and from Morgan State University. He did not add to that explanation yesterday.

Council member Dennis R. Schrader, who has had the council's second-highest cellular phone expenses, said the new policy makes sense because executives cannot be micro-manages. "Each of us has a different style, and I think this gets at that," Mr. Schrader said.

Mr. Feaga has been trying for years to get the council to set spending limits. He stepped up his efforts in December, when he became chairman.

Regarding the cellular phone records, Mr. Feaga said Monday that they should be released to the public in their entirety, stressing that Mr. Gray's records should be examined to determine whether he was charging the county for personal calls. At yesterday's meeting, Mr. Feaga repeated his call to release the records.

Yesterday afternoon, however, Chris Emery, the council administrator, said Mr. Feaga would follow the advice of a county government lawyer and allow council members to block out personal calls before releasing the records. Last night, Mr. Feaga said only that he might "push" for the release of more records than the county lawyer advised.

Monthly totals released yesterday show that Mr. Gray made $5,166 in cellular phone calls from June 1994 to May 1995. He reimbursed the county for $583 worth of those calls he considered personal, for a net monthly average cost to the county of $382.

For the 12 months up to the end of May, no other council member's cellular phone expenses were close to Mr. Gray's:

* Mr. Feaga spent $434 on cell phone calls and didn't reimburse the county for any personal calls.

* Vice Chairman Darrel E. Drown spent $404 on cellular calls and reimbursed the county $22 for personal calls.

* Council member Mary C. Lorsung spent $52 on cellular calls and reimbursed the county $3.68 for personal calls.

* Mr. Schrader spent $725 on cellular calls and didn't reimburse the county for any personal calls. But his total covers only his first six months in office, beginning with December. His monthly rate is considerably less than Mr. Gray's total.

Since July 1 of this year, according to figures provided by the council yesterday, Mr. Gray's cellular phone bills have declined to an average of $298 a month. He has not reimbursed the county for any calls made in those months.

The cellular phones cost 27 cents a minute for local calls during business hours and 4 cents a minute for local calls during night hours, said David Wise of the Howard County Bureau of Communications.

There also is a 10-cent charge for each call. Typically, AT&T Corp. rates apply for long distance calls, Mr. Wise said.

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