Larry Young's conflicts Public-private roles: West Baltimore state senator uses elected position as 'leverage' for his private undertakings.

December 04, 1997

WEST BALTIMORE SEN. Larry Young has blurred the line between his public and private roles. The situation screams "conflict of interest," but he does not see it. Instead, he views his legislative seat in Annapolis as a way to give himself "leverage," as he put it in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Drawing a line between an elected official's public duties and his private activities has always been a cause for concern. This is especially true in the Maryland General Assembly, whose members are part-timers. Senator Young has proved particularly adept at using his public prominence in Annapolis to fuel his private business dealings.

As reporters Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham detailed in The Sun yesterday, Senator Young generates considerable revenue for businesses he has set up -- and runs from his legislative office -- that flow directly from his position in the General Assembly as a power on health-care matters and on issues affecting the black community.

Take, for instance, the no-bid consultant's contract he has with Coppin State College, an institution dependent on state financing for its very existence. Mr. Young has continued to vote on matters pertaining to Coppin.

That Coppin State would sign such a consultant contract is shocking. If allowed to stand, every state agency would start hiring lawmakers as consultants to protect their interests. It would be a lucrative source of extra income for legislators and prompt a bidding war for lawmakers' services as insider lobbyists. What a mockery this would make of the independence of the General Assembly.

Mr. Young sees nothing wrong in soliciting large payments from health-care groups that do millions of dollars in state business. The catch is that he says he only works on out-of-state matters for these companies. In practice, he gives these companies insurance against the loss of their state contracts and provides them with a powerful government advocate -- an inside lobbyist -- for future contracts.

This cannot continue. Legislators have to take great care to erect a fire wall separating their private business activities from their public legislative role.

In Mr. Young's case, he is so involved in health-care matters in Annapolis that earning a living in the health-care field inevitably creates both the perception and the reality of a convergence of his public and private interests.

What should be done about this unethical situation?

Mr. Young must decide if his private enterprises have reached the stage where he can step down from his legislative seat and pursue full time his role as a health-care consultant. Otherwise, he must modify his business activities to preclude even a whiff of conflicting interests with his duties in Annapolis.

Senate President Miller has to act decisively as well. He cannot permit Mr. Young's overlapping loyalties to continue. He should relieve Mr. Young of his chairmanship of the health subcommittee and shift the senator to another committee that does not handle health-care issues. Then Mr. Young's private work with health-care companies would not create a direct conflict.

The state prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, ought to be alerted by The Sun article. He has clear grounds for initiating an investigation into whether public money has been subsidizing some of Mr. Young's private enterprises, whether public ethics laws have been violated, and whether any misconduct in office has taken place.

Using public office for private gain is unacceptable. We trust that fTC both Senator Young and Senator Miller agree with this statement.

If they do, they must take whatever steps are necessary to assure voters and all Maryland citizens that the General Assembly is never intentionally used to "leverage" a lawmaker's profit-making potential.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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