Altercation over councilman's spending resumes Council chairman faults Gray's expenditure in NACO campaign

July 07, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The fight over Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray's expenses has erupted again, this time over hundreds of dollars of county staff time, envelopes and postage for his campaign for office in the National Association of Counties (NACO).

The skirmishes have long been a council sideshow between dTC Gray -- a Democrat -- and council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican. Drown has criticized Gray repeatedly for violating limits on how much council members can spend.

Both are considering runs for county executive. Neither passes up a swipe at the other.

The latest round concerning Gray's record of spending began nearly two weeks ago, when council Administrator Chris Emery, a Republican appointee, challenged Gray over his use of county staff, telephones, faxes, envelopes and more than $500 in postage in his run for second vice president of NACO.

Emery said that one morning all five members of the council clerical staff were working to mail a Gray campaign brochure to 1,600 people registered for the group's national convention in Houston, which starts Friday. The election is to begin at the end of the convention on July 16.

Soon after Emery told the clerical workers to stop because he believed that it was unethical to have clerical staff spending work hours on campaign material. Gray came to the doorway of Emery's office and confronted him loudly over the issue, Emery said.

It seemed that Gray had won the day when the county's Bureau of Central Services sent up 1,500 more envelopes to the clerical staff so that they could continue mailing Gray's campaign brochure. Emery wrote a memo to Drown, who made the criticisms public.

"As far as campaigning for a political position, I don't think it's appropriate," said Drown.

He added that Gray is "just not clearly looking through and understanding what's at his disposal and what's not at his disposal."

"To me, it's a fundamental question," Emery said later. "Is this a good use of tax dollars?"

Gray refused to comment on Emery's account of the recent incident. But he reacted angrily to the suggestion that he was spending county tax money inappropriately. He said his run for a leadership post with NACO will benefit Howard County and the state.

"I would have hoped the County Council would have been supportive of my efforts," Gray said. "It seems that my efforts to be pro-active and productive in the county maybe they find somewhat threatening."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, has said he supports Gray's run for NACO office and his use of -- on a limited basis -- county resources for his campaign.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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