Ruppersberger's clean bill of health MBNA deal: Baltimore County ethics board finds no conflict of interest.

February 13, 1997

THERE IS NO SURPRISE in the Baltimore County Ethics Commission's clean bill of health for Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's links with MBNA, the Delaware-based credit card giant that is contemplating a regional headquarters here employing 3,000 persons averaging $50,000 a year -- a $150 million payroll with spinoff for other local businesses. Since he won the county's top job in 1954, he has openly celebrated his emphasis on economic development.

When this newspaper endorsed the conservative Democrat over Republican incumbent Roger Hayden two years ago, we stated that "the deciding difference is that Mr. Ruppersberger has the greater willingness to do the networking that can make the country an aggressive player again in economic development."

His performance since, especially in pursuing what could be the region's biggest private sector acquisition in a quarter-century, confirms that judgment. "Networking" with MBNA chairman Charles M. Cawley, a friend of 20 years from the days when their wives taught in Baltimore County public schools, will be the deciding factor if the credit company comes here.

Because Mr. Ruppersberger has a controlling investment in a debt collection agency, Rupp and Associates, that has been doing business with MBNA, the executive has recused himself from any zoning or development decisions by county agencies involving the credit card company. He told the Ethics Commission yesterday that a relocation of MBNA to Baltimore County "is not expected to result in any increased business" for his firm. And he described his relationship not as a "conflict of interest" but as an "identity of interest" in the county's future. As a result, the Ethics Commission last night found him in conformity with its codes and praised his "legitimate efforts to promote" the MBNA project.

Mr. Cawley's company contends it never asks or accepts financial or zoning concessions from any of the governmental entities where it operates. This is its stated intention if it comes to Baltimore County.

Mr. Ruppersberger, who has described his friendship with Mr. Cawley as nothing short of "family," will have to take care to avoid the slightest appearance of impropriety. Given his past record of public service and the reputation of MBNA, there is every reason to expect both parties will adhere to high ethical standards.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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