Officials' holiday card costs scrutinized in Anne Arundel

December 03, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

In the view of Anne Arundel County's auditor, three county officials might have taken the spirit of giving too far, using taxpayer money to send out holiday greeting cards.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, Sheriff George F. Johnson IV and Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds spent more than $3,000 on cards and postage last year, according to a memorandum from County Auditor Teresa Sutherland.

The memo, distributed Monday to members of the County Council and obtained by The Sun, begins: "I am writing to advise you of spending by the Sheriff's Office, the Fire Department and the County Executive's Office that is, in my opinion, an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds."

It does not recommend a specific fix, nor does it point to a specific policy that was violated.

Owens spent the most, $2,518. She sent her cards to businesses, civic associations, county employees and others, her spokeswoman said. They were signed by her, her husband and two sons. They had her home return address.

After auditors inquired about the price, she reimbursed the county with money from her campaign account. But that move raises legal questions.

State law prohibits government employees from doing campaign work on government time. According to the memo, then-Chief of Staff Fred Schram ordered the cards through an Owens spokeswoman. They were made in the county print shop.

"In the future, further consideration will be given to utilizing any county staff for holiday mailings," Owens' spokeswoman Jody Couser said yesterday.

Johnson, a Democrat, said he always has sent holiday cards. He spent $484 on cards last year, and $296 on cards this year. Last year, postage cost $85.

"It's a time when people come together," he said. "Law enforcement relies on connecting with people."

He said he will reimburse the county if the County Council requests it.

Simonds, the fire chief, spent $118 last year on cards, and $37 on postage, the memo states.

"It has been a normal practice to send holiday greetings to the agencies we deal with on a regular basis," he said.

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