Power ties, junkyards and politics Arundel councilman is study in contradictions

November 10, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Lawyers were frantically filing appeals to keep Thomas W. Redmond Sr. out of jail Friday, but the Anne Arundel County councilman was relaxed and gentlemanly as he showed off his towing and junkyard business.

Past the glass cabinet filled with dozens of miniature tow trucks, the bankrupt millionaire walked into his carpeted office upstairs from his warehouse of grease-pocked auto parts.

He glanced at the fire helmet he wore when he was a child and the "Redmond for Council" cap he wore during his 1-percentage-point victory in 1994.

Everywhere were heaps of paper, piled on tables and slipping apart, some scattered across the floor.

"My office is a paperwork nightmare," he joked.

The same could be said of his life these days.

A silk-tie-wearing salvage-yard magnate who hopes to be county executive someday, Redmond had been scheduled to start a 90-day jail sentence today.

The sentence was imposed July 31 by an irate judge who found Redmond in contempt for failing to comply with a 9-year-old divorce agreement.

Redmond was supposed to remove his former wife's name from the mortgage of an apartment building. He failed to do this, the building went into foreclosure and his former wife sued to avoid liability for the debt.

An hour before the courts closed Friday, however, his attorney persuaded the Court of Special Appeals to postpone the jail sentence while Redmond appeals.

The mortgage imbroglio is the latest in a string of financial and legal troubles for the soft-spoken junkyard king. His life is a scrap yard of contradictions.

He is a county employee but owes the county thousands of dollars in taxes. He is rich and debt-ridden. He is a Democrat and a Republican. He is cordial but occasionally threatening. He drafts zoning laws, but for years allegedly violated them. He runs auto salvage yard but favors expensive ties.

According to county records and interviews with more than a dozen people who know him:

Although Redmond's Inc. at 8226 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. in Pasadena earns at least $50,000 a year through an exclusive agreement to tow cars for the county police in Redmond's district, the company has not paid taxes to the county for three years. As of Friday, the company owed $15,822.

Although the self-made businessman is on paper the richest person on the County Council, owning land worth $3.2 million, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, claiming a cash-flow problem and $1.6 million in debts to 11 creditors.

Although Redmond campaigned on the slogan "positive, courteous, common-sense government," the Ethics Commission is investigating allegations that he broke county ethics laws by sponsoring a zoning law change that saved the wood-mulching enterprise of a business associate.

Although a lifelong Republican, he switched to the Democratic Party in 1992 to run against a Republican councilman and is now an ally of Republican County Executive John G. Gary.

Although Redmond is known for courtly behavior, his former wife, Sandra C. Redmond, and a rival towing company manager, Diane McClary, claimed in court cases that he threatened them.

Although Redmond helps to draft zoning laws on the council, before he took office in 1994 the county tried to shut down his salvage yard for zoning violations.

Even the appearance of the thrice-married 50-year-old father of seven is paradoxical.

Standing 6 feet 4 and weighing 225 pounds, Redmond looks impressive at the dais in council chambers in his navy suits, power ties, black cowboy boots and beard frosted with gray.

But among piles of tires at work, he's often smeared with grease, decked out in sweats and talking salty. He keeps a Smith & Wesson .357-caliber Magnum handgun nearby for protection.

The son of a police officer, Redmond earned enough money pumping gas in Pasadena to buy a $500 used tow truck from a guy down the street when he was 19.

He worked out of his mother's garage for five years, bought his lot on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard in 1972 and turned it into an auto parts and towing business that today has 15 employees and 10 tow trucks.

Redmond said he was inspired to try politics in 1981, when he went with an auto salvage trade association to the state legislature to lobby for an image-enhancing change in state law. "Junkyards" should be called "auto dismantlers and recyclers," the association argued.

After Pasadena Del. William J. Burkhead turned Redmond out of his office, Redmond stormed back in and warned: "If you don't support this bill, I'm going to do everything I can to work against you and make sure you're not re-elected. And I know a lot of people!" Redmond recalled.

"He put his arm around me and said, 'Come on now, sonny. We have to talk about this.' And he took me down to a bar, introduced me to the whole committee and said, 'I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine, Tommy Redmond. And you know that automotive recycling bill? We ought to pass it,' " Redmond said.

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