Black community, constituents wait as Jones weighs his future

As Anne Arundel Councilman Daryl D. Jones prepares to head to federal prison for failing to file his tax returns, a number of his constituents in his northern county district said they would like to see the Severn Democrat keep his seat — and return after he's served his time — even as his opponents clamor for his resignation.

Kevin Poole, owner of Kevin's Barber / Beauty Salon, nestled in a strip mall along Telegraph Road in Severn, said as he cut hair Wednesday afternoon that he feels Jones is being treated more harshly because he's a black elected official.

"For them to try to get rid of the only black guy in there, it doesn't look good," said Poole, who said he's met Jones several times. "I don't condone what he did. But I just don't think he should lose his job over it or get jail time. There's people who have done a whole lot worse stuff."

Support for Jones is not unanimous. At the Severn branch of the U.S. Post Office Wednesday afternoon, Charles Levay, president of his local civic association, said Jones should resign — a sentiment that he said is shared by many of his neighbors and other neighborhood association officials he's spoken with.

"He lost the public trust," said Levay, a registered Republican who said he voted for the Democrat twice and always found him to be engaged and helpful with neighborhood issues. "He's always been a good guy, but you have to accept responsibility for your actions and we expect him to do the right thing."

Many constituents in Jones' Arundel district said he has earned their respect as a solid lawmaker. But they have been divided since the two-term councilman's sentencing Monday about whether the conviction is reason enough for him to step down — and whether their neighborhoods can go without a voting council member for the five months that he is incarcerated.

Jones' district includes Severn and parts of Brooklyn Park, Glen Burnie, Hanover, Ferndale and Linthicum. It is home to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Arundel Mills mall — the site of a future slots casino.

Jones, a defense attorney who was re-elected last year, must report to prison Jan. 23 and serve five months on the misdemeanor charge of failing to file nearly three dozen personal and business tax returns over a six-year period. He was also given six months of home detention and one year of supervised probation.

Because the county charter is silent on the issue, despite the prison sentence, Jones, 47, can retain his seat if he chooses. If he were to resign, the council would choose his successor.

He said Wednesday that he has no timeline for a decision.

"I'm going to spend some time thinking about what I can continue to accomplish for the district," Jones said in an earlier interview, and added that his office has been flooded with "numerous" calls of support from constituents. "I'm going to take a look at everything, as I tend to do, take a comprehensive look, and come to a decision that is appropriate."

Anne Arundel's black community is keeping a close watch on Jones' decision. He grew up in the county and is only the second African-American to serve on the County Council. Sarah E. Carter, a Democrat, was the first African-American member of the council, losing her re-election bid in 1982.

Some are calling for Jones to hold onto his seat and return when he is released from prison. Carl O. Snowden, a prominent Annapolis civil rights activist and a former city alderman, said that despite calls for him to resign, Jones should hold on and weather the storm.

Snowden said that Jones not only served his own constituents with distinction, but he was often a voice on the council for the larger African-American community. For example, he recently introduced a resolution calling for a study on the racial breakdown of county employees.

"Oftentimes African-Americans from across the county have called on him for support," said Snowden. "I think it's important that he stays. The decision is his. But if he decides to stay, I think there'll be broad support for him to stay in both the white and black communities. He's well-liked and highly regarded."

The Rev. Herbert W. Watson, Jr. recalled the many times he asked Jones for help on behalf of his congregants at St. Mark United Methodist Church, a historically black congregation that is politically active and is located in the heart of Jones' district. Whether they asked for legal advice in a child custody case or help getting a community issue on the county agenda, Jones was always willing to help, Watson said.

"We all have mistakes along the way," said Watson, who has known Jones for more than a decade. "We all have those moments in our life. A misjudgment or whatever it is. But as a public figure, I think he's operated with integrity, not with self-interest."

Two of Jones' four Republican colleagues on the seven-member body have called for his resignation, citing his expected five-month absence as an abandonment of his constituents.

Councilman Derek Fink, a Republican from Pasadena, stopped short Wednesday of saying that Jones should resign, but scoffed at the notion of the district being without representation for a five-month stretch, and called the situation "unfortunate."

"I think that Daryl's going to the do the right thing at the end of the day for District 1 and Anne Arundel County," said Fink. "District 1 has to have representation, I firmly believe that."

Democratic Councilmen Jamie Benoit and Chris Trumbauer declined to comment. Edward P. "Ned" Carey, the chairman of the county Democratic Party, did not return several messages seeking comment.

Jones pleaded guilty in August to the charge that he failed to file both his personal and payroll tax returns — 35 different filings — between 2002 and 2007. He said in court that he had neglected his responsibility to pay his taxes because he had become overwhelmed caring for his terminally ill mother, who died in 2006, and a brother with mental illness.

He failed to file four personal income tax returns and 31 quarterly payroll tax returns for his two businesses — an Annapolis law office and a Glen Burnie tavern known as Dotson's Live, operated through an entity called F. Diamond Properties.

He has repaid the government $108,369 but still owes penalties and interest totaling $27,447. His lawyer, Andrew C. White, who pleaded with the judge to spare Jones jail time and grant him probation, said in court he had instructed his client to withhold payment on the fines until he double-checked the figures.

Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said the jail sentence greatly tarnishes Jones' reputation and his effectiveness as a councilman.

"It's hard to see how he would be able to retain the seat under these conditions," said Nataf. "As somebody who should be a sort of paragon of excellence, his credibility will certainly be diminished."

About 40 supporters swarmed the fifth-floor Baltimore courtroom where Jones was sentenced. State Sen. James "Ed" DeGrange Sr., a Democrat who calls Jones a friend, was there and said he was "very disappointed" in the sentence. "People have gotten a lot less for far more egregious crimes."

"When people know the real Daryl Jones, they'll find that he is a decent, caring individual who cares for his constituents and cares for his family. When you make mistakes, there's a penalty for it. He'll have to deal with it — and it's not going to be easy."