CA board issues a reprimand to Hlass

Long Reach representative is also placed on probation

February 27, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association's board has voted to reprimand and put on probation one of its members for releasing confidential information.

The board suspended David Hlass, the Long Reach village representative, last month, accusing him of sharing information about the salaries and bonuses of the association's top officials with his village board and breaking conflict of interest rules by soliciting business from the association, which he helps oversee as a board member.

On Wednesday, the board found that he had shared information about salaries and bonuses, but that he had not broken conflict of interest rules.

Hlass had called the board's charges against him "ridiculous" and a "witch-hunt." He could not be reached for comment about the verdict.

His attorney, Kimberly Manuelides, said, "Obviously, I'm very disappointed in the decision of the members to reprimand him."

Manuelides said she will confer with Hlass as to what actions they might take, including filing a complaint with the Howard County Circuit Court.

The board held the internal hearing in an unannounced, closed meeting at association headquarters. Splitting the board's meeting room with a partition, they held the hearing in half of the room while a reporter and three summoned witnesses waited under the watch of a security guard in the other half.

The guard, Jack Powers of Expert Security Services, said the association hired him to watch the door and ensure the secrecy of the closed session.

Much of it, however, was audible through the partition.

The hearing consisted of opening arguments, witness testimony and closing arguments.

Six of the board's 10 members attended and acted as the jury. One member, Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, walked out as the hearing began, saying, "I don't want to have any part of that."

Later, she added: "I think it's just a shame that as volunteers on the board, we're subjected to things like this."

Two others, Wolfger Schneider and Tom O'Connor, said they had scheduling conflicts. Hlass attended as a defendant but was forced to leave once the other board members began deliberating.

Also present was a private attorney retained by association and a court reporter hired to transcribe the proceedings - although she, too, was asked to leave as the board began deliberations.

The chair and vice chair of the Long Reach Village Board were summoned Wednesday to testify that at the Oct. 19 village board meeting, Hlass handed them copies of a page marked "confidential" in bold letters and underlined.

Hlass, however, argued that he did not consider the document listing the salaries of association officials confidential.

But board Chairman Josh Feldmark told Hlass, "There is no doubt in my mind ... that a lot of the information on that document was confidential. You had, therefore, no right."

Pat O'Malley, the association's purchasing manager, also testified Wednesday that on Dec. 29 Hlass had offered him skybox tickets to a Ravens game after Hlass asked to be considered for contract bids to provide the association with office equipment.

Hlass, the Howard County sales representative for Toshiba office equipment, has said he does not believe soliciting business from the association was a conflict of interest.

After testimony and closing arguments, the board deliberated for about an hour and with a 6-0 vote found that Hlass had released confidential information. The board voted, 5-0 with one abstention, finding that he did not have a conflict of interest, mainly because no business contract with the association resulted from Hlass' actions.

As punishment for releasing the salaries of officers, board members at the trial decided to send Hlass a letter of reprimand and to place him on probation until his term ends in April.

The letter, which the association released Thursday, warns Hlass that if he discloses any more confidential information, "you shall be summarily removed as a [board member]."

Feldmark said the proceedings were closed because the board was following Robert's Rules of Order, a guideline for parliamentary procedures.

But Alliance for a Better Columbia, a local watchdog group, called the closed proceedings underhanded.

"Hlass was elected by his village," said ABC member Joel Pearlman. "Why was the trial secret? Why was he suspended even before they voted him guilty? It's hard to comment on the legality of such things when the association does everything in secret."

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