Ethics panel delays more probes into media-generated allegations

March 17, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

The Senate chairman of the Maryland General Assembly's joint ethics committee said yesterday the panel will not take up any more media-generated allegations of ethical breaches by members of the legislature in the remaining four weeks of the 90-day session.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat who is co-chairman of the committee, said the 12-member panel will be too consumed by legislative business to properly investigate possible violations of state ethics laws.

"No further news reports on individual members will be considered during the session because we simply do not have time," Collins said.

He said that after the end of the session -- the legislature adjourns April 13 -- the committee would consider such allegations. The crunch of business in the final weeks would not afford the time for a "thorough, fair and objective examination of any article," he said.

Collins was responding to questions about whether the committee would take up the issue of Del. Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat who chairs the Prince George's County House delegation and who lobbied county officials on behalf of his company, according to a report in Sunday's Washington Post.

Exum apparently urged officials to cut the dumping fees that Joseph Smith & Sons is charged at county landfills, a move that could save the company as much as $140,000, according to the Post article.

When lobbyists for Prince George's County met with Exum on Jan. 13 in his legislative office to present the county's 1998 agenda, Paul Smith, the president of Smith & Sons, attended the meeting, the newspaper reported.

Collins refused to say whether the committee would eventually consider the Exum case, citing "confidentiality issues."

But Del. Kenneth C. Montague, a Baltimore Democrat and the House co-chairman, said that under its legal charge, the committee considers all allegations of possible ethical transgressions reported by news organizations.

"Any time it's in the press, the committee generally takes it up," Montague said.

He declined to comment specifically on the Exum case.

Since December, the committee has looked into the dealings of three members of the legislature -- all Democrats -- as a result of newspaper articles.

On Jan. 16, the Maryland Senate expelled Larry Young of Baltimore for ethics violations. Last month, Gerald J. Curran of Baltimore resigned from the House of Delegates amid a probe by the committee.

And last week, the committee concluded that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s reported role in a Western Maryland land deal violated no ethics "laws, rules or standards" and decided not to conduct a formal investigation.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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