Arundel officials seek probe of leases

Full accounting requested for phone towers

February 04, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials, including County Councilman John J. Klocko III, have called for a speedy and full accounting of all leases the county has handed out for cellular phone towers.

An article in The Sun yesterday about two politically connected businessmen granted a lucrative tower lease far different from the county's standard lease -- that could bind the county until 2016 -- prompted criticism from several officials and vows that no sweetheart deals should be allowed.

"This sounds like the good-old-boys network in full force," said Democratic Del. Joan Cadden. "These kinds of issues really make people think they can't trust the county or their officials. It makes us all look bad."

The county rents space on top of 15 water tanks to communications companies. Fourteen pay at least $22,000 a year (with annual 4 percent increases) and are forbidden to sublet space on their towers. Businessmen Jay Winer and Charles F. Delavan, through their company, West Shore Communications, got a lease in 1996 that requires they pay $4,000 a year (with annual 4 percent increase) plus 25 percent of revenue made through sublets, which they are allowed.

Winer and Delavan are campaign contributors to Republicans Klocko and former County Executive John G. Gary, who appointed them to Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

While asking for a report on the leases at the council's Feb. 16 meeting, Klocko called The Sun article "misleading, inaccurate and incomplete." He said even if the Winer-Delavan lease was not the "best deal the county could have gotten," rent paid on the tower this year, because of the sublet proviso, was comparable to the other leases: about $22,000.

In the first two years, West Shore paid $10,000 and $14,000 in rent, profiting $42,800. Mark Sapperstein, a former partner of Winer and Delavan in West Shore, said yesterday that it was understandable his company was charged less by the county. It was a "small rental business, not AT&T who is using the tower for their own customers," he said. "I'm not a user. I'm like a landlord. It's a completely different business."

Critics say that if the county acted as landlord, it could collect 100 percent of the apparently increasing revenue.

Sapperstein, after buying out Winer and Delavan, sold West Shore and another company, Shore Communications, to Pinnacle Towers Inc. last year for $8 million. He said West Shore was worth $700,000. Pinnacle expects it will bring in more than $65,000 in its first operating year. County officials said yesterday that the West Shore lease was the first tower lease the county had entered into after several years of talks with West Shore. They were, they said, venturing into a new market.

But county records show Gary signed other leases with better terms for the county about the same time, including one with Bell Atlantic Mobile for $38,000 a year and another with AT&T Wireless Services for $22,000.

The West Shore negotiations lasted for three years because the company at first wanted to build a tower. West Shore had a special deal with the county, renting the tower in six-month increments for two years while trying to build. The company paid $200 a month.

On July 25, 1994, Richard Dixon, a Department of Public Works employee, wrote in an interoffice memo to Teri Belcher, deputy director of the department: "The rental price is much less than the current rentals for antennae on other elevated tanks. Those rentals range from approximately $2,000 to $2,500 per month."

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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