Jerry L. Rushing and a group of supporters told the County Council last night that the 39-year-old Howard County native should be appointed to the County Board of Appeals.
Slow-growth advocate John W. Taylor had opposed Mr. Rushing's nomination on principle, saying that by definition it is a conflict of interest for anyone who profits from the building industry to sit on a board or commission that decides land-use matters.
"This is not about Mr. Rushing, his character or his integrity," but about perception, Mr. Taylor told the council. "It is critical that people in government not only conduct themselves ethically, but work to ensure that even the appearance of any impropriety is eliminated," Mr. Taylor said. "Is this a litmus test? Yes it is -- but a good one, in the the public interest."
Mr. Rushing of Savage told the council that he applied for a seat on the Board of Appeals "for a simple reason -- to serve the community in a way that I think I can be effective."
The building contractor said he is "a full citizen" of the county whose mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all county residents. "And my wife's family calls us newcomers. I am deeply rooted here," Mr. Rushing said.
Mr. Rushing told the council how as a boy he swam in the Patuxent River and how he hunted on land that since has become an industrial park. "I am concerned about playing fields" for children, he said, noting that he has been a volunteer coach for soccer and baseball teams.
Third District Republican Dennis Schrader, who nominated Mr. Rushing to replace board member Wayman Scott, asked Mr. Rushing to tell the council about the size of his business since questions had been raised in an article in The Sun about Mr. Rushing's qualifications.
In that article, Mr. Taylor was quoted as saying that the appointment of a builder to the Board of Appeals is like naming an electric company executive to the Public Utilities Commission.
Mr. Rushing told the council, "I am a carpenter by trade. I consider myself a carpenter."
He said he does home improvements and has a home inspection company. He said he has built five homes in the past 15 years and that his gross revenues average around $300,000 in sales a year. "It's just me and my wife," he said. "No employees."
Former State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager told the council that he has known Mr. Rushing and his family for more than 25 years.
"There's been some talk about putting a small builder on the board," Mr. Yeager said. "He will bring a degree of expertise not on the board now."
But his main reason for supporting Mr. Rushing is the builder's integrity, Mr. Yeager said.
"We need people with integrity who will make calm rational decisions," Mr. Yeager said. "He's a family man, an old-line Howard County resident, a churchman, involved in the community and he has the expertise. He should be confirmed."
Thirty-four people who came to last night's hearing to support Mr. Rushing and five others addressed the council on his behalf -- a neighbor, his tax accountant, the father of a child whom Mr. Rushing coached, a Republican activist and Mr. Rushing's pastor.
"I was brought to this podium by an article I read in the newspaper and I am outraged," said Elkridge resident David P. Maier, a Republican candidate for the state Senate last year. Mr. Rushing is "forthright, objective and reasonable," he said. "I felt this fight was worth fighting. I don't believe a man should be slandered."
The Republican-dominated council nominated Mr. Rushing to the Board of Appeals.
Second District Democrat C. Vernon Gray complained that the Republicans had appointed Mr. Rushing before advertising the vacancy. "We always advertised this postion" when the Democrats were in control, he said. "But I knew your name way in advance and that it would not change."
The council will vote April 3 on Mr. Rushing's nomination.