John Gary's misguided choice Anne Arundel County: Attorney has conflict of interest in issue he was hired to investigate.

September 25, 1996

ANNE ARUNDEL County Executive John G. Gary's decision to secretly hire lawyer John R. Greiber Jr. to investigate the circumstances behind the 1989 increase in pension benefits for top appointed and elected officials was thoughtless and muddleheaded. He should not take as vindication a ruling by the county ethics commission, which found no illegalities in the hiring of Mr. Greiber. Rather, Mr. Gary should read it as a warning to end this unfortunate arrangement.

If the executive believes that former county officials engaged in a conspiracy to increase their pensions, he should investigate. However, to hire the attorney who is representing a private organization that is suing the county on this very issue shows a frightening lack of judgment. Mr. Greiber, unsuccessful 1994 candidate for state's attorney in Anne Arundel, may be one of Mr. Gary's political allies. But Mr. Gary must recognize that his first obligation is to protect the interests of county taxpayers, not to advance a political agenda.

Mr. Gary seems convinced that in 1989, before he became executive, top officials conspired to give themselves unwarranted pension benefits. Mr. Gary is within his rights to pursue his suspicions. But with plenty of highly competent attorneys around, why hire the counsel for the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association?

Mr. Gary and the association may have common goals. Both want to deny former top county officials from benefiting from these pension increases and to force them to repay higher benefits they have already received.

Nonetheless, the association is suing the county on this very issue. Mr. Greiber represents the plaintiffs, and Mr. Gary, as chief executive, is the nominal defendant in the suit. Even though he may disagree with the county's previous position in support of the higher pension payout, Mr. Gary's job is to defend the county's side in that lawsuit.

Paying Mr. Greiber to investigate the pension issue is akin to inviting the fox to come in the hen house and identify those chickens he would like to eat first. If Mr. Greiber wants access to former county officials and records, he should go through the normal discovery process. We recommend that Mr. Gary terminate this unwise arrangement immediately before more damage is done to the county.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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