Fox to seek ethics ruling

Annapolis alderman acts after criticism of sailing-race ties

May 30, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Annapolis city council member Michael W. Fox will seek a ruling from the city's Ethics Commission before voting on a resolution to allow a prestigious around-the-world sailboat race to lease the city dock for $1, after criticism of his part in organizing the local stop with race sponsors.

Fox said last night that the race is important for Annapolis and the region's economy, and he doesn't want residents to believe he had done anything "damaging" to the event.

Some council members have criticized Fox's dual roles on the project as an Annapolis elected official and as an officer of the nonprofit Ocean Race Chesapeake, which is arranging a stopover in Annapolis next year for the Volvo Ocean Race Around the World.

"There wasn't anything hidden," he said. "Everybody knew."

As part of his work on the project, Fox has flown to South Africa, Sweden and England for planning meetings, trips financed by the nonprofit and the race's corporate sponsor, Volvo.

As an alderman on the council, Fox has helped smooth the way for the prestigious international sailing race's stopover in April. The Anne Arundel County planning official has sponsored legislation that would allow local organizers to lease for $1 City Dock space and scarce downtown parking.

In addition, he intends to vote on a proposed $50,000 contribution of city money and services to the local organizers, including Ocean Race Chesapeake.

Fox has maintained his actions posed no conflict of interest, "I have nothing to gain from it personally in any way, and the city has everything to gain from it."

Critics say Fox is functioning on both sides of negotiations with the city and question how he can represent the interests of Annapolis at the same time he is working with Ocean Race Chesapeake and Volvo, and accepting overseas trips from the company that is receiving significant city support.

"It may not technically be an ethics violation, but it raises questions about your ability to be objective," said Democratic Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver. "If you sent me around the world, I would have trouble thinking of you in a critical way."

Republican Mayor Dean L. Johnson, who values an Annapolis presence among race organizers, also had said that if he were in Fox's position, he would not have taken the overseas trips.

The race, formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World, attracted tens of thousands of tourists to Annapolis and Baltimore in 1998, providing an image and economic boost for the city.

Fox, a Republican, said the trips improved communication among race organizers and the host cities.

"I've never traveled much, so to me it was exciting," he said. "But I don't see any potential conflicts. ... It's a lot of work while you're there."

In January of last year, he visited South Africa to attend a race conference near Cape Town, for a cost of $3,283 for airfare and accommodations paid for by Ocean Race Chesapeake. Fox's trips to Volvo headquarters in Goteborg, Sweden, in October and to Southampton, England, last month were paid by the Volvo division organizing the race. The airfare and accommodations cost more than $1,800 and $1,400, respectively.

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