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Howard's executive uses $9,005 for furniture Official's purchase came a month before his spending cuts plan


One month before unveiling a plan to cut government spending, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker ordered $9,005 worth of new furniture for his office.

The purchase -- which includes a $1,462, top-of-the-line, high-back leather chair for Mr. Ecker's desk -- involved last-minute contributions from the budgets of two county government agencies separate from the executive's budget.

Such contributions sidestep a law requiring approval from the County Council of transfers of funds among county agencies in the last quarter of fiscal years.

But county officials acknowledged yesterday that these moves are not uncommon -- particularly at the end of fiscal years, when some agencies run out of money and others have extra.

"We borrowed from Peter to pay Paul," said Beverly Wilhide, Mr. Ecker's aide.

Mr. Ecker's new furniture -- the desk chair, 14 conference chairs and a small, round conference table -- is to be delivered in about 10 weeks.

"People have been after me for a long time to get new furniture," Mr. Ecker said Wednesday.

When asked why he needed such an expensive chair, he said -- while sitting in his old chair -- "I spend a lot of time here."

The furniture now in Mr. Ecker's large Ellicott City office does appear to have seen better days.

Some of it is stained and the wheels fall off some chairs. Several officials this week described the furniture as ill-suited for an executive whose responsibilities include meeting industry leaders.

The furniture, including Mr. Ecker's desk chair, is being purchased from Baltimore Stationery Co. In teal-colored leather, the "Kimball Executive High Back Swivel Tilt" chair is "for somebody who really wanted to get a good desk chair," said store salesman Barry Feintuch.

The special-order chair lists for $3,054, but Howard received a 52 percent "metro discount." It isn't offered in Baltimore Stationery's 1995 catalog, where high-back chairs are listed for up to $975 and generally cost $400 to $600.

The county executive long has enjoyed a reputation as a frugal manager. His aide completed the furniture deal Aug. 16, according to invoice documents provided by Mr. Ecker. A month later, he unveiled a plan to cut 12 percent from the county's budget by the summer of 1997.

Mr. Ecker's office rounded up money for the new furnishings in the closing days of the fiscal year that ended June 30. Mr. Ecker spent $2,300 from his budget, $1,700 from the county administrator and $5,000 from the Department of Public Works.

The two agencies directly paid Baltimore Stationery, Ms. Wilhide said. Thus the contributions did not involve transferring money to Mr. Ecker's budget.

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