Gifts returned or destroyed, several council members report

Forms also show officials accepted passes to events

November 07, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Several Baltimore City Council members reported in disclosure forms filed this week that they have returned or destroyed certain gifts of complimentary passes that ethics officials questioned last month.

The annual reports also showed that council members are provided tickets to sporting events by several corporations - most notably Comcast, which owns the city's cable franchise.

The financial disclosure forms cover the period between July 1, 2002, and June 30, 2003, and are required from elected and appointed officials to document financial dealings, jobs and gifts.

Council President Sheila Dixon and members Robert W. Curran and Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. each reported that Comcast Cable provided them with tickets to sporting events. In addition, Mitchell and council member Bernard C. "Jack" Young reported receiving tickets to a Washington Wizards basketball game from Philip Morris Co.

Young also accepted tickets to a Baltimore Ravens football game from Poole & Kent, a contracting and engineering firm.

Gifts from people who do business with the city are prohibited. But there are exceptions: One allows for meals and beverages, another permits free admission to sporting and cultural events if the entire council is invited. Such gifts do not have to be reported unless they exceed $50 or if a succession of smaller such gifts exceeds $150.

Several council members, some in jest, expressed concern yesterday that new reports of gifts could spur further interest by federal prosecutors.

In September and last week, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio subpoenaed the council asking for information dating back five years that details council members' acceptance of gifts and loans, hiring practices and relationships with two local businessmen - Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of 1st Mariner Bank, and Ben Greenwald, Arrow Parking's vice president.

The Board of Ethics stated last month that council members violated ethics law by accepting passes from Arrow Parking because the company has business pending before the council. The board also questioned other gifts detailed by The Sun in July. Those included free passes to 1st Mariner Arena, the Baltimore Zoo and the Senator Theatre.

On Oct. 15, the ethics board recommended that council members return the parking cards and any of the other passes in excess of two.

Dixon and several others reported that they returned their Arrow Parking cards. Most other members have said they returned the cards after June 30, which is why they did not note their return on disclosure forms.

James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said it is important to hold officials accountable on gifts.

"We have to be vigilant about the small things because often times we don't even know about the big things," he said. "What we can't see is what's talked about at the steak dinner with Hale."

Browning was referring to a $1,413 dinner in April that Hale held for the council. Hale has said he planned to explain how his bank lends money in the city's poor neighborhoods. Then Hale asked what he might do to win the city's banking services contract.

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