Toying with economics; Anne Arundel: Business development board must refocus after more conflicts revealed.


THE EARLY rationalizations in support of the work of the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. keep unraveling. First, it was revealed that the organization awarded no-bid contracts to companies its members operate. Now comes a report that the board lent $11,000 to a foundation that has nothing to do with its mission to promote business.

Defenders of the quasi-public board formerly argued that its directors should not be subjected to so much criticism because of the good they do for the community. But the latest example shows more penny-ante dealing, more conflicts of interest and a disregard for the board's stated purpose to attract, retain and grow business in Anne Arundel.

Board members lent $11,000 to the Anne Arundel County Police Foundation in 1997. The foundation used the money to buy toy cars, which were sold for to help the group's fund raising and community outreach. The police foundation's community-service work is noble, but the economic development entity was launched -- and is supported by tax dollars -- for another purpose.

Compounding the problem was the fact that the loan was pitched by Andrew R. Lombardo, who was treasurer for both the economic development board and the police foundation. Mr. Lombardo's abstention from voting hardly erases his conflict: He gave fellow board members a presentation before the vote.

Mr. Lombardo was among directors whose companies received $20,000 in no-bid contracts from the board last year. He has been replaced, along with several other board members, by County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Because of its lax approach, the board tarnished its image. With several new members, the reconstituted board must guard against damaging conflicts and poor judgments that have undermined public confidence in the economic development group.

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