Ethics complaint filed against Annapolis alderwoman

Action targets banning of merchants at festival

July 20, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis man has filed an ethics complaint against Alderwoman Louise Hammond, alleging that she altered a recently passed ordinance in a way that would lessen competition for the downtown shop where she works.

The ordinance, passed by the city council this month, authorized the lease of Susan B. Campbell Park for Latino Fest, an event planned for Sept. 25. At Hammond's request, the council amended the ordinance to prevent merchants from selling their products at the festival.

Annapolis resident Michael Calo considers the amendment a conflict of interest because Hammond works part time at Outer Island Imports, a downtown store that sells amethyst and other rocks.

"If some other alderman had presented the amendment, that would have been fine," said Calo, who is not associated with the festival. "But she has a clear conflict of interest under the city code."

Hammond said yesterday that she had not seen the ethics complaint but dismissed its premise as silly. "I haven't set up any situation where there would be more rock sales at the store," she said.

Hammond, a Democrat who represents the downtown business district, said the council often has prohibited the sale of merchandise at festivals. "The thinking is that the businesses on the City Dock suffer when people spend their money at a festival and therefore don't spend money in the shops," she said.

She said working at Outer Island Imports two days a week "is a good way to keep in touch with the business community down there."

Hammond's action also has drawn criticism from the Association of Latin Marylanders of Anne Arundel, the group putting on the festival.

Event organizers argued at several hearings that downtown business owners, who complained about competition from the festival, should not have a monopoly on the City Dock.

Under the city code, Annapolis officials cannot represent the city in matters that would have direct financial impact on businesses with which they are affiliated. Frederick Paone, chairman of the city ethics commission, said officials do not receive specific training about what might constitute a conflict of interest but said commission members always are available to answer questions.

Paone said yesterday that he had not seen Calo's complaint but could not comment on it if he had.

In his complaint to the city ethics commission, Calo wrote, "As a multi-term elected official ... Mrs. Hammond should well have known that her actions regarding [the ordinance] were a blatant conflict of interest and thus were illegal."

He said yesterday that limiting competition against downtown businesses should not be the city council's regular practice.

"It may be boilerplate to them, but it isn't boilerplate to me," he said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who voted against Hammond's amendment, agreed. "I've never understood the downtown merchants' concerns about competitiveness," she said. "This is an eight-hour festival, and when you bring in people who maybe haven't been here before and they see how wonderful it is, there's a good chance they'll come back."

Moyer said the amendment seemed like a backhanded way of hurting the event.

"If it's about an effort to kill the festival, then be upfront about it," Moyer said. "Vote against the lease."

Calo's complaint first will be reviewed by the city attorney and by a representative from the city's five-member ethics commission. The pair will decide whether to dismiss the complaint or forward it to the ethics commission, which would then have 60 days to investigate it and file a confidential opinion with the mayor's office.

If the commission finds a violation, it could recommend punishment for Hammond.

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