Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens announced yesterday that she is removing her chief of staff because the aide is the sister-in-law of a lobbyist being paid to try to persuade the county to endorse a 60,000-seat auto racing stadium.
Owens said she is transferring Linda Gilligan to a lower-profile job in the county's finance office because Owens does not want voters to suspect her administration's objectivity on the track proposal.
Gilligan is related to Michael Gilligan, whom Owens dismissed as an unpaid adviser last month after learning that he was working for the Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp. without informing her or registering as a lobbyist, as required by law.
This morning, Owens is expected to vote as part of an advisory committee considering whether the state should lease 100 acres south of the Key Bridge to the Pasadena-based company. Residents oppose the project, fearing it will cause traffic jams.
The Anne Arundel County Council is expected to vote next month on a bill that would reverse a change in the county's zoning laws that was approved last year to allow the track without an additional public hearing.
"It's my feeling that the citizens of Anne Arundel County should have such faith in their government that any question about conflict of interest -- real or imagined -- should never enter their minds," said Owens, who was elected in November on a platform of ethical government.
Linda Gilligan, a 47-year-old former assistant director of the University of Maryland Medical System, will soon start work as a senior assistant in the finance office, said county spokesman Andrew C. Carpenter.
"Linda is a true professional who will thrive in our finance office," Owens said.
Gilligan's new job will pay about $18,000 a year less than her roughly $72,000-a-year position as the head of Owens' Cabinet, Carpenter said. Gilligan was Owens' chief of staff for only two months.
Owens has not decided whom she will name to replace Gilligan, Carpenter said.
Linda Gilligan said it is not fair that she should lose her job because of her brother-in-law's work as a lobbyist.
"Janet and I are victims of my brother-in-law's brazen attempt to cash in on his relationship with the county executive," Linda Gilligan said. "Michael and I have no relationship. I see him once a year, at Christmastime. That's it."
The former chief of staff added that she never intended to influence the executive on the racetrack proposal.
"I had no position on the racetrack," Linda Gilligan said.
Michael Gilligan could not be reached yesterday.
A former county councilman who was one of Owens' closest advisers during her fall campaign, Michael Gilligan told The Sun Jan. 15 that he was a lobbyist for the track's developers and would register as soon as possible with the county's ethics commission.
Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., chairman of the County Council, was among those who praised Owens yesterday for being more aggressive in preventing the appearance of conflicts of interest than John G. Gary and his allies on the council were when Gary was county executive.
"In any instance where there is a perceived conflict of interest, Janet is cutting it off before it gets started," Klosterman said. "Unfortunately, some good people are going to be left by the wayside."
Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said Linda Gilligan did not face a clear conflict of interest.
If Linda Gilligan had been married to Michael Gilligan, it would have been improper for her to urge Owens to endorse the track because Linda Gilligan's household would have a financial interest in the project, Skullney said.
It's not not clear how much of an obligation Linda Gilligan would have felt to help her brother-in-law's cause, Skullney said.
"You can't just say that Linda Gilligan should be automatically disqualified" from her job as chief of staff, Skullney said.
Marcia Drenzyk, a leader of the neighborhood organization Citizens Against the Racing Stadium Site, said opponents of the track's proposed location were angry at Michael Gilligan. But Drenzyk said Linda Gilligan appears to be an innocent bystander.
"We saw no problem with Mrs. Gilligan," Drenzyk said. "The fact that her relative did something improper, I don't see how she could have had any influence over his actions."
Robert Douglas, a spokesman for the track's developers, refused to comment.
Pub Date: 2/10/99