Councilman acknowledges 'an oversight'

Rakes failed to disclose ties before liquor board vote

`Doesn't really pass the smell test'

He strongly backed permit for his campaign treasurer

Howard County

February 09, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A Howard County councilman who strongly supported granting a liquor license to a constituent who planned to open a restaurant in Oakland Mills never told his fellow council and liquor board members that the applicant was his political campaign treasurer.

Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who doubles as liquor board chairman, claims he replaced Haluk "Alec" Kantar as his treasurer before the license case came up in November. But state records listed Kantar as Rakes' campaign treasurer from September 2003 until yesterday, when Salman Hussain officially took over. In Howard, County Council members also sit as the liquor board.

The failure to disclose the relationship or abstain from voting on the liquor license does not appear to violate the law, but it raises ethical questions.

"It doesn't really pass the smell test that this could be overlooked," said James Browning, director of Common Cause/Maryland. "It's a big problem if he can push his campaign treasurer's business."

Rakes was the only board member to defend and vote for Kantar's application, which was rejected, 3-1, because of what council member Christopher J. Merdon called "the worst record I've ever seen."

Rakes said his failure to disclose his relationship with Kantar was an "oversight" that he now agrees was an error of judgment.

"My understanding was that I did not have a relationship [with Kantar] at the time of the voting," he said. Disclosure is "the right thing to do. I forgot to do that. It was an oversight on my part."

Rakes' failure to disclose his relationship with Kantar is one of a series of self-acknowledged mistakes -- the rest involving the councilman's political fund raising as reflected in his most recent campaign finance report, filed Jan. 29.

They include the following:

The report contains no record of more than $11,000 in contributions -- nearly his entire campaign kitty -- that Rakes raised at an Oct. 20 fund-raiser he held at a Columbia hotel.

Rakes lists three charitable donations from his account Dec. 29, totaling $3,875. They were made to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Howard Community College and the Howard County Foundation. State election law allows campaign funds to be used only to support a candidacy, which normally excludes charitable donations, officials said.

Rakes' most recent report, due Jan. 19, was filed 10 days late.

Yesterday, Rakes said confusion involving Hussain and Christopher Alleva, who helped prepare his finance report, led to the errors. Alleva is a friend to Rakes and Kantar, he said.

Rakes produced a new finance report that eliminated the charitable donations, which he said were personal gifts, not campaign transactions, and which listed all the contributors. The new report showed a cash balance of $18,671.76, one third larger than the $12,052.94 the Jan. 29 report showed.

Rakes and Alleva filed a report in late November showing all the contributors, but then learned they were not required to file until January. Ross Goldstein, director of candidacy and campaign finance at the state election board, said the board deleted the November report, and told Rakes' representatives to refile the information in January. But when the Jan. 29 report was filed, it did not include the contributors that had been listed in November.

Two $1,000 donations Rakes did report came from builder Dale Thompson and his wife, Luana. Thompson could benefit from a bill Rakes sponsored last year that moved a planning district line -- a move that could allow an office/townhouse project Thompson and developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. are planning at Route 32 and Cedar Lane to go forward more rapidly.

Rakes blamed all the errors on Hussain, though Hussain said Alleva prepared the report. Alleva, who also contributed $1,000 to Rakes, said, "I'm just helping out as a volunteer." The finance software, he said, "is easy to get messed up."

Rakes said he had not read or reviewed the finance report, although he signed it.

"I've got somebody working on this who doesn't know what they're doing," he said.

Rakes said he thought papers had been submitted months ago to state election officials to record the change of treasurers, and he said he did not know that his report failed to list virtually all of his donations.

"I've got to get all that straightened out," he said when asked about the finance report. "I did [sign the report]. I did not review it in the level of detail you're telling me now."

Kantar said Monday that he had nothing to do with preparing Rakes' latest finance report.

"My assumption is I was taken off as his treasurer eight months ago," Kantar said, which was about the time he signed the lease for a restaurant he had planned to open in Oakland Mills.

Whether Kantar was a past or current treasurer, the three other liquor board members who voted on the license for the former Last Chance Saloon building said they would have done things differently.

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