County Council faults lobbyist

Wayson's testimony against zoning bill called misleading

Measure revived, passed

October 20, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

For a lobbyist with one of the highest profiles in Anne Arundel politics, the criticism of him that spilled out at this week's County Council meeting had to be disconcerting.

That no one explicitly questioned his integrity was about the only courtesy afforded Edward O. Wayson, a self-proclaimed "country lawyer" whose Annapolis law office handles work for a long list of powerful clients.

Wayson was upbraided by the council Monday night for offering misleading testimony Oct. 4, when he presented the only opposition to legislation restricting off-street parking. The bill was defeated 5-2.

In an effort to revive the measure at Monday's meeting, Councilman John J. Klocko listed numerous discrepancies between Wayson's testimony and the facts. When the councilman was finished, his colleagues passed the bill unanimously.

Several said yesterday that they are concerned about the process that gives tremendous influence to people who testify on legislation -- free from any oath -- in the moments before a vote is taken.

"Based on his testimony, I voted the way I did," said Councilman Cliff R. Roop. "Obviously, I'm going to have to be careful to ask more questions. I must admit, I had to take this a little personally. I'm disappointed."

Reached at his office yesterday, Wayson said he was just learning about the council's concerns because he did not attend Monday's meeting.

He never intended to mislead anyone, he said.

"There would be no earthly advantage for me to do that," he said.

The bill in question is not the sort that would usually attract wide attention. It essentially changes the zoning laws so that churches, restaurants and businesses are prohibited from using a neighboring vacant lot for parking if the lot is in a residential area.

Klocko said the measure was meant to "clean up a problem in the code" that he discovered in 1997 during a political battle over Riverdale Baptist Church and its plans to build a huge complex in Davidsonville.

The project, had it been approved, would have required 200,000 square feet of parking.

Parking lot sought

Wayson joined the debate on Klocko's proposed change this month because his family's company, Wayson's Properties Inc., is developing land in southern Arundel and wants to place a parking lot on land intended for residential use.

Wayson told the council the bill was opposed by the South County's Small Area Planning group, a panel of residents who are developing zoning recommendations for the region. He said the group polled its members.

"I'm under oath to say I was there, they voted, and they voted it down, 5-4," Wayson told the council. "I'm not pulling any punches here. That's right up front, and that's what you all asked for."

Several council members interviewed yesterday said Wayson's account of the citizen group's vote swayed them.

Conflicting testimony

Monday night, Klocko brought in the group's chairwoman, Debra Osborne, and asked her, "Did you vote on the proposal?"

"We did not have a formal vote," Osborne said.

"Did the committee have a copy of the bill?"

"No we did not," she answered.

"So your testimony is that it's emphatically false?"

"That's correct. We did not have a formal vote," she said.

Asked about that yesterday, Wayson called it a misunderstanding, saying that part way through the citizen group's debate, members took a poll on the topic. In the poll, five members said they wanted to discuss the matter further.

"Half the people in this group are people I've known all my life," Wayson said. "There's no reason for me to misrepresent what they did."

Klocko said that dates Wayson used in his testimony about the site for the restaurant were off by years. He said Wayson's testimony that his family intended to rebuild a burned restaurant on the site and wanted only to preserve parking they once had, also was false.

He passed out copies of county permits showing that the Waysons had changed plans, replacing the restaurant with a Dash-In convenience store, gas station and carwash.

`Inaccurate'

"Quite simply, the information provided was inaccurate and misleading," Klocko said.

Wayson said those were all misunderstandings over details that had little relevance to the bill. He said that although his accounting of dates and times might have been off, his family still intends to build a restaurant on the site in addition to the Dash-In.

Several council members were critical of the episode.

"People were mad," said Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk, who, along with Klocko, had supported the bill from the start. "To mislead us at a public hearing like that, he's rendered himself totally ineffective."

"A person who is a professional lobbyist, their stock in trade is their credibility," Klocko said. "Even if they have a bias towards their client, they have to adhere to the truth.

Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. said council members must accept that they are hearing biased opinions during public meetings, not always hard facts.

"We've always known that lobbyists are either pushing for their own interests or they're being paid by somebody to represent their interest," he said. "I know that, and the council knows that."

Councilwoman A. Shirley Murphy agreed, saying she didn't want to be hard on Wayson. "I respect Mr. Wayson," she said. "If it was his intent to mislead us, it worked."

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