Councilman Gray feels majority Republicans are targeting him they deny it


The way Howard County Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray saw it, yesterday's council spat about travel expenses was about one thing: The council's Republicans are in charge, and they want him to know it.

"When I see something that is directed at me, I'm going to fight it," he told the three Republicans who make up a 3-2 council majority. "I want you to know that."

The Republicans replied that they simply were looking after the county's budget, which includes examining every council member's expenses.

"This is not about you," Councilman Dennis R. Schrader told Mr. Gray.

In terms of its policies, there was nothing new at yesterday's meeting.

The council essentially reviewed rules it established in April, among them one requiring council members to receive approval from their colleagues before taking trips costing more than $200.

Mr. Gray travels more than any other council member, having billed the county $2,990.39 from July 1 of last year to April 1 this year.

He defends the expenses, saying that National Association of County Officials (NACO) conferences have helped him in fashioning literacy, anti-smoking and anti-drug legislation for Howard County.

Explaining why he thought he was the target of the new policy, Mr. Gray told council Republicans, "I'm the one who goes to NACO."

"You may not be going to NACO," responded Darrel E. Drown, a Republican and council vice chairman. "We may not be picking up [the tab]. If you want to go spend your own money, that's fine. But if you're going to go representing the council, then I think we need to bring it before" the council for approval.

Mary C. Lorsung, the other Democrat on the council, was not at the meeting.

Ms. Lorsung's expenses were not reviewed.

In April, the council also agreed to limit the salary of council members' administrative assistants to $37,674 and the yearly car-phone bills of each council member to $1,500, and Mr. Gray said he believes that, too, was directed at him.

In the end yesterday, the council members agreed to look into yearly expense allowances and to permit members to handle expenses as they see fit, as long as they don't top a certain limit.

The likely limit would be about $3,000, Mr. Gray and Chairman Charles E. Feaga said after the meeting.

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