Each council member gets $6,000 in expenses Advertising budget cut to cover costs

July 23, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly characterized Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray's position on the council's advertising in local newspapers. Gray suggested the council buy advertisements in one newspaper, not in multiple papers. The county charter requires such notices only in one newspaper.

The Sun regrets the error.

The Howard County Council ended its long-running battle over expenses last night -- but not before a final, testy session in which Councilman C. Vernon Gray successfully lobbied to cut the council's newspaper advertising and subscriptions as part of the deal.

The council voted unanimously to approve $4,800 for each member's expenses, including lodging, travel, meals and cellular telephone calls. Over the objections of Councilman Charles C. ,, Feaga, a West Friendship Republican, the council also approved an additional $1,200 for each to attend meetings of national conventions and make other trips related to council business.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The votes weren't close, but the debate took nearly an hour as Gray lashed out at reporters and clashed with Feaga over the budget.

"There's something called a feeding trough. The taxpayers are getting tired of throwing feed in the trough," Feaga said as he pushed for a lower limit on expenses.

"Charlie," Gray said later, "you'll be quoted liberally in the press tomorrow. The more you see them writing, the more you're talking."

His references to three reporters covering the meeting were no less pointed.

"I'm tired of dealing with a biased press," Gray said at one point.

As he voted for the expense budget, he prefaced his vote by saying, "I prefer mine not be made available to the press."

A week ago, Gray narrowly lost an election for a leadership job with the National Association of Counties, a lobbying group, at its convention in Houston.

He has complained that an article in The Sun detailing a questionable fund-raising campaign for that office may have hurt his election chances.

After last night's meeting, Gray said some people at the convention had copies of the article, and there were rumors -- completely untrue -- that he might be indicted after the convention.

He refused to elaborate, but during the meeting he made his feelings known, one time after the council approved $6,000 in annual expenses for each member. When it became clear they would have to reduce some other area of the budget to pay for the expense package, Gray recommended cutting funds for newspaper advertising and subscriptions.

"We get newspapers but most of us get subscriptions at home," Gray said. "As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of discontinuing my subscription."

He also said the council should end the practice of publishing notices of upcoming meetings, issues and votes in newspapers. The council now pays to post notices in The Sun and in the publications of Patuxent Publishing Co.

"Just don't advertise in two papers," Gray said. "They sell enough papers anyway."

Both Feaga and Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, said cutting newspaper advertising might mean less communication with citizens.

But the council agreed to cut $5,000 from its newspaper advertising budget of $25,000. It also cut $1,000 from its subscriptions budget of $2,500.

Administrator Chris Emery said the council may continue advertising in both papers, but the budget will be much tighter.

The compromise on the expense package ended more than a year of debate over the budgets of council members. Last year, they set an informal limit of $4,800 on certain expenses, but Gray exceeded that amount by more than $1,500, prompting Republicans to push for a formal limit.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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