Council leaders snubbed by Gary Executive cancels meetings for 'breach in confidentiality'

February 13, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Opening a wide breach in Anne Arundel's Republican leadership, County Executive John G. Gary will no longer meet with the County Council leaders after being publicly criticized for comments he made during a private meeting.

Gary's decision, spelled out in a terse memo Tuesday to all seven council members, marks an unprecedented split between Anne Arundel's two branches of government, both led by Republicans, just as the arduous budget season approaches.

It came the same day The Sun published an interview with Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans in which she said Gary had threatened to "sue" County Auditor Teresa Sutherland over her handling of a financial review of the Anne Arundel Detention Center.

Gary made his comments in late January during a standing Thursday morning leadership meeting.

"Due to a breach in confidentiality at private meetings between the County Executive and County Council Chair and Vice Chair, I've decided to discontinue weekly Thursday meetings effective immediately," the memo reads in full.

Gary's decision is the latest twist in what started in June as a routine audit of the County Detention Center.

Sutherland, who works for the council and not Gary, is trying to determine whether cash that inmates deposited for use at the commissary reached Anne Arundel's bank accounts. She is reviewing jail records from June 1995 through December 1996.

County auditors have ascertained that deposit slips for three months are missing, which could mean that $10,000 has disappeared. The exact amount won't be known until paperwork is found and examined.

Gary also has requested a police internal-affairs investigation into possible criminal misconduct involving jail employees who handle inmate cash.

The county executive is furious that Sutherland met with a fraud specialist in the state's attorney's office last month after George Braxton, then the jail's deputy superintendent, refused to let her see commissary records. She later obtained the records. Braxton resigned abruptly last week.

Gary has said that Sutherland violated the county charter, which requires the auditor to notify the council and county executive if she finds "irregularities" while conducting a financial review.

In a meeting late last month, Gary told Evans that he planned to press charges against Sutherland. It is unclear whether he meant a civil or criminal complaint. Evans revealed Gary's threat in a recent interview with a Sun reporter.

The Thursday morning leadership meetings, which included Gary, Evans, Vice Chairman Bert L. Rice and Samuel F. Minnitte, Gary's chief of staff, were a chance for casual conversation about legislative plans. Gary started the talks, which sometimes lasted 2 1/2 hours, when he took office in 1994.

"They were very beneficial," Rice said. "I think out of some frustration he sent the note, and that concerns me."

The cancellation of the meetings comes as Gary administration officials and council members gear up for the most important time of the legislative year, the annual budget negotiations, which will culminate in May in a plan charting more than $750 million in county spending through June 1998.

"I'm disappointed, especially with the budget coming up," said Councilman James E. DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat. "I don't know anything about a breach of confidentiality, but we have to get beyond this for the betterment of the county."

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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