EVEN IN THIS age of the Internet and e-mail, some people are still more comfortable putting pen to paper. It's a matter of comfort. That's sort of the way it is with C. Vernon Gray and the telephone.
The Howard County councilman is a prolific user of the phone, particularly the cellular model issued him by the county. He uses it so often -- twice as much as the rest of the County Council combined -- that council Chairman Charles C. Feaga criticized him about it and suggested that much of Mr. Gray's calling was of a personal nature.
An exhaustive study of Mr. Gray's records from June 1994 to last August by reporter Dan Morse of The Sun paints a different picture. It showed that Mr. Gray -- who commutes between county offices and Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he teaches, and Annapolis where he sits on various state boards -- does use his car phone with gusto, but almost always on matters involving county work. Rather than casting him as a car phone abuser, the records reveal him more as a Type-A workaholic. The councilman made several calls alone to a Clarksville water bottler, he said, to see that samples of its product get included in gift baskets that the state distributes to notables.
Mr. Gray's personal calls amounted to about 11 percent of his total bill. He appears to at least attempt to identify them all and reimburse the county. Mr. Gray has made frequent calls to places such as Browning-Ferris Industries and Whiting-Turner Construction, all of which do business with the county. Principals in both firms have contributed to Mr. Gray's campaigns, but they have also donated to other county politicians.
Council members have set a $4,800 annual limit on the amount each member can spend on phone calls and trips. Mr. Gray would have to cut back on his use of the car phone to fall within the cap based on the fact that his calls over the 15 months studied totaled $6,158.
Mr. Gray may indeed wield the car phone as a vital work tool, but it's an expensive tool nonetheless. It is not unreasonable for him to prioritize calls that need to be made on the road and hold off on returning others. Nevertheless, we hope this latest examination helps extinguish the partisan-fueled ire over Mr. Gray's car phone use.