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County officials disclose freebies

October 29, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Two Washington County Commissioners and County Administrator Rodney Shoop accepted a combined $654 worth of free gifts in 1996, according to their financial disclosure forms.

Shoop reported receiving the most - $384 worth of gifts - including four Baltimore Orioles tickets valued at $80, free entrance into a golf tournament valued at $75 and a $30 gold pen-and-pencil set.

By law, the commissioners and other top county officials must disclose any gift valued at more than $25.

Commissioners Ronald L. Bowers and R. Lee Downey each accepted a ticket from First National Bank to a Baltimore Ravens game last November. Each ticket was valued at $75.

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Downey also listed receiving a $25 pen-and-pencil set from Purina Mills, a dinner at the Maryland Association of Counties conference last summer valued at $25, and two tickets to The Maryland Theatre valued at $70.

Other county officials, including Commissioners James R. Wade, John S. Shank and Gregory I. Snook, County Clerk Joni Bittner and Treasurer Todd Hershey did not report receiving any gifts valued above $25 in 1996, according to county records.

"I don't accept any gifts that in my interpretation would be a conflict with operations of county government," Shoop said.

Shoop said he would not, for example, accept tickets to an Orioles game from a prospective bidder on a contract that was up for bid because "it could look like it could interfere with my decision."

Bowers said he didn't have any problem with other commissioners or county employees receiving gifts, as long as they report the gifts and their receipt doesn't interfere with the bidding process.

Bowers said it was legitimate for a company to lobby officials by treating them to sporting events or the theater. "It's showing respect to local elected officials," he said.

"As long as you go out in the bid market and you bid, and the low bidder gets the job, I don't have any problem with a lobbying effort," he said.

Bowers cited the awarding of the contract to manage the county's employee pension fund to INVESCO, even though that company was the highest, not the lowest, bidder.

Shoop, Snook and County Human Resources Director Alan Davis received tickets to the exclusive Masters golf tournament this year from INVESCO.

They reimbursed INVESCO for their food, lodging and the tickets, and have each filed disclosure forms on the trip.

They also said they abstained from any discussions or voting on the contract, although Davis helped write the request for bidders.

The $100-a-day tickets to the Masters were reportedly being scalped for as high as $8,000.

Downey said he didn't see a problem with accepting free gifts such as football tickets from businesses such as First National Bank that do business with county government.

"Seventy-five dollars is not going to buy my vote ... I'm worth a good bit of money," he said.

Shoop says he received:

* Four Orioles tickets, from a company called Greiner, valued at $80.

* One Baltimore Ravens ticket valued at $75 from First National Bank.

* Free entrance to the Chamber of Commerce 6th Annual Commerce Cup, valued at $75, from Don Heath of Bell Atlantic.

* Two tickets to the chamber's crab feast from Heath for $54.

* An entrance fee for golf at the Maryland Association of Counties conference, valued at $40, from Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

* Dinner, valued at $30, at the association conference from Blue Cross.

* A $30 gold pen-and-pencil set from Purina Mills.

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