Elections may raise conflict question again Aldermanic hopefuls have ties to county that could cause stir

October 28, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

A year ago, the Annapolis city council defeated legislation designed to resolve conflict of interest questions among its members. Next week, those questions could be raised again as voters elect a mayor and city council.

Five candidates for eight aldermanic seats have connections outside the city council that have the potential to create conflicts of interest, especially when it comes to the divergent interests of the city and the county.

Two of the candidates -- Louise Hammond, the incumbent Ward 1 Democrat, and Sheila Tolliver, a Democratic candidate in Ward 2 -- are married to high-ranking county officials. Two others -- Republican Michael E. Fox and Democrat David O. Colburn, both candidates in Ward 7 -- work for the county government. George O. Kelly, the Democratic candidate in Ward 5, is a city police officer.

If he wins in the Nov. 4 election, he would be required by city law to resign from his job because of the conflict that would create.

The nature of part-time legislative positions make such potential conflicts almost inevitable, said Deborah Povich, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause/Maryland.

"You have to expect people to have outside incomes and be married to people with different jobs," Povich said. "This does not make them inappropriate for elected office. For those people, it's important that nothing is hidden about their interests."

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, author of the conflict of interest legislation, said the next administration should issue conflict of interest guidelines and that aldermen should voluntarily recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they may have a conflict.

Otherwise, he said, "there's no way of stopping council members from voting on issues in which they have a conflict."

Yet Snowden also recognized the problems with aldermen who don't vote on certain issues.

"You don't want your council members not to have a say because of potential conflicts," he said. "Your say in an issue isn't represented when that happens."

Hammond repeatedly has recused herself from council meetings in which the tax differential -- the break city residents get on county property taxes -- is discussed, because her husband, John Hammond, is the county finance officer and responsible for setting the rate.

"I think there's an assumption that a public official will do their job and know what their duties are and do the right thing," Louise Hammond said. "If you assume otherwise, you've got to assume that they're dishonest."

But where some see possible conflicts, others see a good thing.

"I don't think there's a potential for conflict at all," said Sheila Tolliver, whose husband, Larry W. Tolliver, is county police chief. "In my case, my husband is a law enforcer. If he's going to unduly influence me, he'll make me obey the law and I don't see how that could hurt anybody."

Others say their county connections will help them create a better relationship with their long-standing political rivals in the city. They say such ties could help ease tension after bitter fights the two jurisdictions have waged over annexation, cigarette tax revenues and tax differentials.

"Any connections I have with the county would be supportive in gaining a better relationship between the city and the county," said Colburn, chief bailiff at the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse. "I would try to create that aura of cooperation that has been lacking. Working there wouldn't cloud my vision a bit."

Fox sees his job with the county as director of the Odenton Town Plan as "an asset" because it makes him "more well-rounded that I have experience working with the county."

"I want the city to have a good rapport with the county," he said.

At least one county official agreed.

"It certainly doesn't hurt us to be able talk to Louise Hammond and know her and her husband, John," said William C. Mulford II, who represents Annapolis on the County Council. "It doesn't hurt to know Sheila Tolliver and her husband, Larry. On the current city council, there were some aldermen who wouldn't talk to me no matter what the issue. You can't build consensus like that."

Pub Date: 10/28/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.