Poole says aide pondering run has conflict of interest

January 15, 1998

Poole says aide pondering run has conflict of interest


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A dispute flared Thursday among some members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, as lawmakers bickered over whether the delegation's legislative assistant and possible political candidate should keep his job.

The spat began with Del. D. Bruce Poole's assertion that delegation assistant Chris Shank's employment creates a conflict of interest because Shank also is pondering a bid to challenge Poole in this year's election.

Poole said Shank has to make a decision: Say he is running for office and resign, or say he won't run and keep his job.


"I don't think he should do both. It strikes me as not being right," said Poole, a Beaver Creek Democrat.

Shank, a Republican, said he will make a decision about his political plans after the legislative session ends in April.

"I feel as a citizen of Washington County I have every right to consider that. However, right now all I want to do is my job," he said.

A late afternoon, closed-door meeting with Poole, Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, failed to resolve the issue. Munson said he sympathizes with Poole, but understands the need to keep Shank in his job.

"Bruce is going to have to live with it," Munson said after the meeting.

Shank's work 'stellar'

Shank's chief ally is Del. John P. Donoghue, a Hagerstown Democrat who chairs the county's legislative delegation. He said Shank shouldn't resign or be fired.

"I have always tried to be fair. I have no cause to dismiss him. His work, his performance, has been nothing less than stellar. And I don't think it's my job to terminate someone because they could potentially be a political adversary (of Poole's)," Donoghue said.

Shank, 25, has worked as an aide for Donoghue individually and for the eight-member delegation as a whole for four years. He worked previously for one year as an unpaid intern. His $24,000 salary is paid through Donoghue's individual legislative budget and from the General Assembly budget.

His duties vary, from arranging delegation meetings to organizing county bills filed in the legislature. County residents needing help with state matters often first deal with Shank.

"I think Chris is the ultimate professional. He has done a wonderful job," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Shank is considered by some political observers to be a future player in local politics. He is listed as Donoghue's campaign treasurer on state election forms and rumors have been swirling that he might challenge Poole in this year's election.

Poole, a three-term member of the House of Delegates who has announced a re-election bid, said he told Donoghue last fall that Shank should decide if he is running for office or remaining the delegation's assistant.

Discussion was 'polite'

Poole said he set deadlines of last Dec. 1 and then Jan. 1 for Shank to decide, but received no answer. He spoke to Shank about the matter last Saturday when the delegation held its annual public hearing in Hagerstown.

"It was a polite discussion, but I said, 'I can't possibly see how you can do both,'" Poole said.

Poole said Shank has access to documents, conversations and other information that could be used in a political campaign.

Shank said nearly all of the information Poole deals with is public information that could be obtained by anyone pondering an election challenge.

"He has yet to tell me what information I have access to that is not public," Shank said.

Poole said the issue is Shank's to settle and he would like to see it end without having to go to a delegation vote on whether to fire the assistant.

Shank said he will "gladly leave" if the delegation votes him out. But for now he plans on staying.

Several delegation members refused to comment on the Poole-Shank dispute, but some said the rift cannot be positive for the delegation, which is handling more than 30 requests for local legislation this year.

"Any time legislators are at conflict it causes problems," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Said Poole: "I think it may put us on eggshells, but I'm going to make sure I do my job."

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