Moag says he can avoid conflicts Stadium agency head takes Legg Mason job

some are skeptical

June 07, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

He's the unpaid head of the state's stadium-building department and the landlord for its most important sports teams.

And last week, Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Moag also became the chief of a profit-seeking investment group that wants to help teams build stadiums and finance operations and acquisitions.

Can he wear these two hats simultaneously without getting them confused? Moag says yes, that he will take the steps necessary to avoid conflicts of interest and that the sports industry group at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. he's heading won't be looking for work at home.

"The kind of stuff I'm going to be doing here is out of state. That's where the business is," Moag said.

Others aren't so sure.

"I think it is very problematic," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a citizens watchdog group.

"I think Mr. Moag has a responsibility to the state not to wear those two hats. It is not credible to me that there can be total separation of the two," Skullney said.

Legg Mason has had a long association with the Stadium Authority. Its chairman, Raymond "Chip" Mason, was a charter member of the authority's board in 1987, although he left that post years ago. Legg Mason's realty group appraised the B&O warehouse when the Stadium Authority bought it.

In 1996, Legg Mason was one of three local partners of Prudential Securities in underwriting $87 million worth of bonds to build the Ravens stadium. In recent weeks, the company was also an unsuccessful bidder to refinance bonds for the authority.

Before taking his new job, Moag was a Capitol Hill lobbyist with the local office of the powerhouse firm Patton, Boggs. His introduction to the sports business came with his nomination to head the Stadium Authority in 1995.

He lured the Cleveland Browns to town, then parlayed that experience into other work. He was a paid consultant last year to officials in Raleigh, N.C., who were signing a deal to move the National Hockey League Whalers from Hartford, Conn., to Raleigh (they are now known as the Hurricanes).

Moag said the Legg Mason group he heads will be working mostly for sports franchises, helping them issue stock, find new owners and with other financial matters.

"If Art Modell came to me today and said I need some help selling my team, I would tell him, 'I can't help you,' " he said of the Ravens owner.

Moag will recuse himself from consideration of business that might overlap with Legg Mason's work, he said. "I can't even foresee anything because we won't do business with the Stadium Authority and we won't do business with either teams," he said.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican who serves on the Appropriations Committee overseeing the Stadium Authority's budget, questions whether that will be enough.

Moag, as landlord, has to pursue an occasionally adversarial line of bargaining with the Orioles and Ravens. Would Moag imperil work he might like to win from other team owners who are partners and friends of Modell and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos?

"If you are supervising one of the members of a partnership and holding a public trust, can you then do business for private profit with other members of the partnership?" Flanagan said.

"I wouldn't be prepared to say it's a conflict of interest, but I think there is a potential conflict of interest," he said.

Moag said he spoke with John O'Donnell, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, before taking the job and discussed ways to keep his public and private duties apart.

O'Donnell declined to discuss Moag's case but said conflicts between private and public duties of board members such as Moag vary by circumstance. "It depends on the facts," he said.

In some cases the commission has determined that an appointed figure has to give up a public post to avoid a conflict. In cases of less severe conflicts, the appointee can recuse himself from discussions or votes and agree not to use the public position for private gain.

"Somebody can put their position on their resume, but they can't take out an ad promoting their close relationship with the governor," O'Donnell said.

Abraham Dash, a professor who teaches legal ethics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore's law school, said a "rule of practicality" must apply to such public service.

"To get people who are going to be good can we then say they can't use their experience in their private lives? You would never get anywhere," Dash said.

Dash said he would not be troubled by Moag's private job because his public work is open to scrutiny. Lease negotiations, dispute resolution and other elements of the Stadium Authority's oversight are conducted in plain view.

"As long as they are open and above board, I don't see where there is a conflict," he said.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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