Bill would make it easier for Balto. Co. to accept gifts


Baltimore County officials are pushing legislation that would allow the government to accept such small gifts as a tree or a park bench without having to appear before the County Council for approval.

The county still would need council approval for gifts valued at more than $5,000. But the county would be able to accept smaller donations unless a council member requested they be brought up for a vote within 14 days of being notified of the gifts.

"We get donations every week for trees, for shrubs, for park benches," said Robert J. Barrett, the county recreation and parks director. But five weeks go by before the county votes on the gifts. "People will actually drop the tree off and we'll have to take the tree and preserve it" until the council vote, Barrett said. The bill before the council would "streamline" the process.

The council is to vote on the bill at Monday's meeting.

But Councilman T. Bryan McIntire pointed out a potential public-relations problem: Voters soundly rejected a similar bill in November 1998.

In that referendum, voters were asked to allow the county budget director to accept gifts valued at up to $10,000.

The county elections office yesterday afternoon could not provide the margin by which voters defeated that bill, though council officials said the bill was rejected handily.

"Now it looks like we're doing behind the scenes something that the people voted against," said McIntire, the council's lone Republican, after a council work session yesterday.

Barrett said the original bill was rejected because of "the way it was worded."

The first line of that bill stated that the purpose was to authorize "the county council to accept certain gifts" and the budget director to "accept certain gifts on behalf of the County."

Barrett, along with McIntire, said the original bill, which was written by the county Office of the Law, should have been clearer in stating that council members would have been accepting gifts on behalf of the county, not for themselves.

"Some of us weren't thinking" when that bill was worded that way, said McIntire, a council member since 1994. He said he supports the new version.

County Auditor Brian J. Rowe said he does not believe the latest bill goes against voters' wishes.

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