Feaga made wrong choice Councilman should have avoided obvious conflict of interest.

February 07, 1996

HOWARD COUNTY COUNCIL member Charles C. Feaga should not have voted in a zoning case involving a company with which he has a business relationship. More disturbing, however, has been his insistence that he would make the same decision under similar circumstances. It takes a strong person to admit a mistake. Apparently, Mr. Feaga can't bring himself to do so in this case. The county Ethics Commission is determining whether the councilman broke the ethics law. If he did not violate it technically, he certainly is guilty of breaking it in spirit.

In December, Mr. Feaga sold an option to buy 200 acres of his family farm in Ellicott City to a company owned by Columbia developers Hugh F. Cole Jr. and John F. Liparini. The next month, Mr. Feaga's vote provided the difference in a 3-2 council decision to ignore the recommendation of the Department of Planning and Zoning and grant a zoning change to a partnership that includes the same two developers. The variance will allow them to build an elderly care facility in Fulton.

By participating in the vote Mr. Feaga has cast doubt on the impartiality of council members in all zoning cases. He wants the public to believe he wasn't trying to hide anything, but when questioned by a reporter two weeks ago about the sale of his farm, he refused to name the purchasers. Several of his fellow council members say they didn't know about the relationship between Mr. Feaga and the developers when they voted on the zoning change. A representative of a third partner in the project, Lovell America Inc., was the only land owner who testified in the council's zoning hearings.

Mr. Liparini and Mr. Cole had met with little success in trying to attract companies to their Fulton property. They believe putting the elderly care facility there will spur other development nearby. The original zoning would not allow the assisted living facility, so Mr. Feaga's vote was crucial. The developers have bought an option to build a 100-house subdivision on the Feaga property if its soil will support septic systems. Mr. Feaga should have recused himself from the zoning case and explained the relationship. Here's another example of why the County Council has no business acting as the zoning board. The public trust of both bodies is compromised by actions such as Mr. Feaga's.

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