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Westminster memo on gifts rankles


Some Westminster city employees feel that they're being tarred with a county government brush by Mayor W. Benjamin Brown's order barring them from accepting even a cup of coffee or a pencil from people who do business with the city.

Employees characterized the mayor's directive as "ridiculous" and an overreaction to recent news reports that a county government building inspector accepted a trip to a national convention paid for, in part, by the Carroll County chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

City department heads said the staffs receive only small items such as fruit baskets or cakes at Christmas. None reported being offered anything similar to the $500 the builders contributed to the $1,352 trip taken by Ralph Green, chief of the bureau of permits and inspections.

Some city departments had not received copies of the mayor's order by yesterday afternoon, although the mayor released it to local news media Friday. Mr. Brown told employees to accept nothing, "not a cup of coffee, not a lunch, not a holiday gift . . ." from anyone subject to city regulation or who has a city contract or might bid on one.

His order imposes tighter restrictions than the city's ethics law, which allows city officials to accept gifts or meals up to $25 in value, but which doesn't specify whether city employees also are subject to the limit.

But the most recent financial disclosure statements filed by all city employees list no gifts they received that were valued at more than $25 during 1991.

"I think [the order] was an overreaction to what happened in the county," one city employee said, adding that the city ethics ordinance would have been sufficient to cover the ethics issue.

"Personally, I think it's ridiculous," said another.

Others suggested that department heads who receive Christmas fruitcakes from the mayor should give them back this year.

Some employees requested anonymity, saying they feared retribution if their names appeared in print.

Mr. Brown said his order wasn't an overreaction. "It wasn't done with any assumption or presumption [of wrongdoing] on my part. I think it's just preventive," he said.

In the city housing and community development office, Supervisor Karen K. Blandford worried whether she could accept beginner reading books and stuffed animals that have been donated for clients' children.

Ms. Blandford said the staff sometimes receives holiday candy or fruit from business associates and one housing client sent flowers recently to thank a worker for extra effort.

"I know that means a lot, because the recipient was absolutely thrilled," Ms. Blandford said. "Sometimes when you're a public employee you don't get that."

Paula Martin, the city water treatment plant superintendent, said she hadn't seen the memo. She said superintendents and assistant superintendents usually receive holiday fruit baskets from some of the companies they deal with, and she shares them with her co-workers.

Waste water treatment plant Superintendent Jeffery D. Glass also said he had not seen the mayor's memo. He said he received a fruit basket from an engineer last Christmas, and shared it with his staff.

Police Chief Sam Leppo said individual city residents sometimes bring baskets of apples or baked goods to the police station during the Christmas holidays.

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