Howard ethics commission head plans review of council member's zoning vote Critics cite nondisclosure of developer relationship

February 06, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the Howard County Ethics Commission said yesterday he will review council member Charles C. Feaga's vote last month on a zoning amendment in Fulton -- a vote that helped two developers who had just bought an option to buy Mr. Feaga's family farm in Ellicott City.

Commission chairman Russell Gledhill said he will bring the case up for discussion at the five-member panel's meeting on Feb. 20. He stressed that no investigation is under way, but said he has asked the county's Office of Law to review the county's conflict-of-interest laws.

Also yesterday, a Howard County state senator -- who last year successfully sponsored an ethics bill for county zoning cases -- said Mr. Feaga erred in not disclosing his sale of the option to buy his farm before the vote on the zoning matter involving the same developers.

"We're a growing county," said Sen. Martin Madden, who like Mr. Feaga is a Republican. "There is an increasing demand for full and public disclosure."

But Mr. Feaga -- a 10-year council member from western Howard who may seek the Republican candidacy for county executive in 1998 -- yesterday stood by his decision not to disclose his business relationship with Columbia developers John F. Liparini and Hugh F. Cole Jr.

Mr. Feaga also stood by his decision not recuse himself from the zoning vote, which passed 3-2.

"I'd do the exact same thing," said Mr. Feaga, who reiterated that he has granted no special treatment to the developers. "It's called voting the way you feel is correct."

In December, the two developers signed an option to buy a 200-acre, Ellicott City farm owned by Mr. Feaga and his four siblings. The developers hope to build up to 100 high-priced homes there.

Less than a month later, on Jan. 2, Mr. Feaga voted for a zoning amendment that will permit construction of an assisted care facility at U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road in Fulton -- a tract half-owned by the same two developers.

Mr. Feaga said he has "no problems" with the ethics commission discussing the matter.

He said voters elected him, in part, to cast pro-development zoning votes.

If he didn't vote in such cases, he said, he would not be representing his supporters.

"It's the chicken way out," he said. "It's the easy way out."

But local ethics experts have said the case represents a classic conflict-of-interest scenario.

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