Anne Arundel County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr. this spring cast the deciding vote in a county zoning law change that saved the business of a friend with whom he also has a financial relationship.
After county zoning inspectors ordered William H. DeBaugh Jr. last year to stop running his wood-chipping business in a section of Pasadena where it was not allowed, Redmond -- whose company is nearby -- introduced an ordinance April 7 to allow "wood-waste recycling" on commercial properties.
Although a local resident asked Redmond during that public hearing whether he had a conflict of interest, Redmond did not reveal that his waste-hauling business and DeBaugh's chipping business have ties.
Once or twice a week, Redmond's trucks haul trash bins full of scrap wood and concrete from construction sites and deposit them on DeBaugh's lot where they are ground into mulch and gravel for sale by DeBaugh, according to the two businessmen. For this service, Redmond pays DeBaugh about $5,000 a year.
DeBaugh also pays Redmond about $650 a year to haul a bin of trash and debris from DeBaugh's 16-acre A-A Recycle & Sand business at 8217 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., they said.
County ethics laws say council members should not vote on bills when they have a financial interest different from the public's in businesses that would be affected by the vote.
"This is a blatant example of a public official appearing to use his office for his own benefit or the benefit of another person," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a public-interest watchdog group.
"The damage that this kind of activity does is to undermine the public's confidence in elected officials," she said.
Povich said the county's Ethics Commission should investigate. She added that the apparent conflict of interest seems to be more substantial than in another case reported by The Sun last week.
On Sept. 16, The Sun disclosed that Redmond's Towing & Auto Parts at 8226 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. has received at least $55,000 in the past year from an agreement with the county to tow vehicles for police in the councilman's Pasadena district.
This poses a potential conflict of interest because Redmond votes on the budgets for the police and the licensing officials who renew his towing agreement with the county every year.
Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the county Ethics Commission, said she could not comment on whether her agency is looking into either question.
Redmond, a Democrat who has represented the Pasadena area for three years, said neither his waste-hauling work nor his towing business presents ethical conflicts.
As part of the waste-hauling business, Redmond's firm owns about 30 large metal receptacles that it places at construction and landscaping sites for disposal of concrete, brush and wood. It is paid to empty them periodically.
DeBaugh's A-A Recycling, a $600,000-a-year business is across
from Redmond's Towing.
Redmond said he didn't disclose his business connection with DeBaugh before his vote because "I didn't think we did that much business with him that it made a difference. Everyone focuses on this as being a 'DeBaugh bill,' but it wasn't. It was a countywide piece of legislation that allows this type of recycling operation all over the county."
The ordinance that passed 4-2 (four votes are required for passage) allows wood-mulching businesses on commercial and industrially zoned land.
Earlier, wood recycling was not listed as a permitted use in any zone.
At least two other mulching businesses in the county -- in Crofton and Odenton -- could have been helped by the law.
DeBaugh has run A-A Recycling without proper zoning approval for seven years, county records show. He said it was absurd to suggest that the small amount of business between himself and Redmond would have influenced the legislation.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard," said the 67-year-old longtime friend of Redmond's family. "The county had to pick specific zones for wood recycling, and so they picked these zones [commercial and industrial]. And Tom Redmond was only one of seven people on that council."
The county zoning records show that DeBaugh's business has approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment. But it lacks county zoning approval.
After learning about the business in 1995, county zoning inspectors cited DeBaugh for zoning violations and warned him that wood shredding and concrete crushing were not allowed on his land, which is zoned for commercial, residential and open-space uses.
Inspectors threatened legal action that could have shut down the business in November, zoning records show. But in December, DeBaugh won more time by telling zoning officials that Redmond soon would introduce legislation that would fix the problem, the county records show.
After the legislation was passed in April, inspectors found that DeBaugh still was not in compliance with zoning laws. Redmond's bill covered wood recycling but not the concrete crushing DeBaugh's business also does.
Although wood recycling is now allowed in some commercial zones, DeBaugh still needs approval from the county's zoning administrator. To bring his business into compliance with county law, DeBaugh would also need to get some of the residential and open-space land he is using rezoned for commercial use, according to county zoning officials.
Zoning Administrator Stephen M. LeGendre will hold a hearing on these matters Nov. 4.
Pub Date: 9/22/97