Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, believing that Republicans stole his letters to leak to a reporter, has requested a police inquiry -- and a new office key to lock out would-be thieves in the future.
Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, declined to comment Wednesday about his request for a police inquiry other than to say, "All I'm trying to find out is how my file turned up missing."
His actions follow a furious outburst at a council meeting Monday morning, when Gray accused County Council Administrator Christopher Emery, a Republican appointee, of stealing Gray's letters and leaking them to The Sun.
"I'm going to ask the chief [of police] to kind of investigate these things," Gray said in Monday's council meeting. "I see it as a whole case of dirty tricks."
Gray's letters were part of a fund-raising campaign in which he asked 50 companies -- including one regulated by the county -- to donate $1,000 for his run for a leadership position with the National Association of Counties (NACO), a lobbying group. The county's Ethics Commission will review questions about the legality of that campaign Monday.
Emery has denied stealing the letters and leaking them to The Sun. Yesterday, he denounced Gray's request for a police inquiry.
"It's absurd," Emery said. "I think it's a disruption of our operation and an embarrassment. I think what happened to the files was an honest mistake, not some sinister, dirty plot, as Mr. Gray has alleged."
Gray, who left for the NACO convention in Houston yesterday, called Howard County police Wednesday afternoon about the missing file, said spokesman Sgt. Steven Keller.
"There has not been any in-depth investigation at this point, but at his request, there will be," Keller said. "We're going to look and see if any crime occurred."
The department has appointed Cpl. Charles Dittman, an investigator with the Crimes Against Property section, to begin the inquiry, Keller said.
This week's battle is part of a long-running feud between Gray and council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, the Ellicott City &r; Republican who appointed Emery.
Gray and Drown are considering runs for county executive. In recent months, they have clashed in increasingly public ways, often with Emery in the mix.
This most recent fight began two weeks ago when Emery confronted Gray over his use of county staff, envelopes and more than $500 in postage for mailings related to his NACO campaign.
When The Sun obtained copies of questionable fund-raising letters from that campaign, Gray accused Emery of supplying them.
To support his claim, Gray said that his correspondence folder briefly disappeared before turning up among Drown's folders in the council's common filing area.
The filing area, which Emery said a detective inspected Wednesday afternoon, has folders with colored tabs -- Drown's being blue, Gray's green -- for each council member.
Emery said a member of the council clerical staff, whom he declined to name, had simply misfiled Gray's folder into Drown's slot. Emery blamed staff preoccupation with Gray's 1,700 NACO campaign mailings for the error.
"It's a perfect example of why I thought this shouldn't be happening," Emery said. "He's monopolizing the staff, and they're covering for each other and making mistakes," Emery said. "She [the staff worker] was doing the filing because everyone else was working on the mailing."
County ethics law prohibits public officials from soliciting money unless it is a contribution for a campaign for public office. State election laws regulate the amount, source and disclosure of campaign contributions.
For his NACO campaign, Gray wrote letters to 50 companies -- including Comcast Cablevision, which the council regulates -- requesting $1,000 donations to pay for expenses for himself, his wife and two campaign volunteers. He hoped to raise $35,000.
Howard County Council Administrator Christopher B. Emery, once fired as a White House usher, may testify next week before the U.S. Senate on the "Filegate" affair. Page 6B.
Pub Date: 7/12/96