Ehrlich sees no conflict in voting on project

The Baltimore Sun

The euphoric announcement of a proposed $175 million, mixed-use development on the parking lot of the state owned Savage MARC train station last week could create a slight awkwardness for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

As a member of the three-person Board of Public Works, Ehrlich would be called on to vote on any sale of state land for the deal - and three of the top four officers of the development company, Petrie Ross Ventures, have together contributed $3,800 to his campaign treasury since 2003.

Ehrlich was asked after a news conference Tuesday at the Savage train station whether he would feel he had to recuse himself from voting on the sale of the 15-acre parking lot because of the contributions.

"If that was the measure, no Maryland politician could ever vote on anything," he replied, indicating he would have no problem voting on a sale if it were to come before the board.

Ehrlich lavished praise both on Howard County and on the development plan for Savage submitted by Annapolis-based Petrie Ross, which is hoping to build two high-rise apartment buildings, stores, restaurants, a hotel, office and five parking garages.

"I happen to know these folks very well," Ehrlich said about the developer at the news conference.

"We have picked friends of mine. This is the right development at the right time," he said, calling the project a winner in multiple ways.

Bobbie Walton, director of Common Cause Maryland, disagreed with Ehrlich's position.

"By accepting large amounts of money from contributors, you have compromised your objectivity," she said about the donations Petrie Ross officials have made to Ehrlich's campaign. Officials should recuse themselves," she said.

"Ideally, this wouldn't even be an issue [if there were] public funding of candidates."

Three of the four top Petrie Ross Ventures officials - Phillip L. Ross, president; Marilyn D. Coolidge, vice president for leasing; and Terry L. Richardson, vice president for development - attended Ehrlich's news conference.

Company Chairman Walter H. Petrie donated $300 to Ehrlich's campaign in 2003, and $2,000 more in June 2005, several months before the firm submitted its initial proposal to develop the station. Coolidge gave $500 in June 2005, and Richardson donated $1,000 at the same time.

Also at the news conference, Ehrlich announced an extra $25,000 in state money for the county's volunteer Neighbor Ride program to provide low-income seniors transportation.

He also announced that a portion of Route 175 has been dedicated to the late James Rouse, Columbia's developer, and a section of Route 108 will be dedicated to the late state Sen. James Clark, who died Aug. 18.

Attendance trends

Ehrlich called his news conference nonpartisan and welcomed both Republican and Democratic officials who attended, but in this election year, it might be revealing to compare attendance at two different Howard events, one held last Monday and the other Tuesday.

Just one Republican attended the Monday event, which was a ribbon-cutting for the state-, county- and privately funded $20 million Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College.

The state paid half the cost; county and private donors contributed the other half. Furniture and equipment added $6 million to the price tag.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, spoke.

He was joined by five state legislators, plus two County Council members - all Democrats. State Sen. Sandra B. Schrader was the only elected Republican in the crowd. Ehrlich sent a proclamation.

The next day's news conference in Savage included Ehrlich, Schrader, Republican Del. Gail H. Bates and County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, a Republican candidate for county executive.

Also in attendance were Republican state delegate candidates Loretta Gaffney and Mary Beth Tung, who got a big hug from the governor as the event ended.

Former Republican Howard County Del. Robert L. Flanagan, now the Ehrlich administration's secretary of transportation, introduced the governor.

Robey was out of town Tuesday and only two Democrats appeared: Dels. Shane E. Pendergrass and Neil F. Quinter, who said he often uses the station to commute to his job at a law firm in Washington.

It's in the cards

Republican County Council candidate David Hlass likes to say his troubles with the Columbia Association and with Long Reach Village Center management are part of the past, but county GOP Chairman Brian Harlin says the District 2 candidate is handing out reminders as he campaigns.

Harlin said Hlass is giving voters business cards from his days as Long Reach's Columbia Council representative.

In a copy provided to The Sun, Hlass' CA fax number, mailing and e-mail addresses were manually crossed out.

The card says "Columbia Association" at the top and "David R. Hlass, Councilman/Board of Directors - Long Reach," followed by contact information. The association's e-mail address is crossed out, but not Hlass's home phone and personal e-mail address.

Hlass and Gina Ellrich are vying for the party's nomination Sept. 12. Ellrich had no comment.

Hlass at first said he had no comment, but then seemed to confirm it, saying, "The only thing I have is my name [on the card]," and adding that his CA e-mail and fax number are scratched out.

"I'm not misrepresenting. I've had it up to my earlobes with you guys," Hlass said, referring to members of the press.

He complained that Harlin, though GOP chairman, "won't talk to me face to face."

Harlin said he would report the card's use to the Columbia Association.

"To me, it's wrong for a candidate to misrepresent himself. They [voters] think he's still a [Columbia] councilman," Harlin said. Hlass was decisively defeated for re-election to the Columbia Association board in 2005 by Henry Dagenais.

While on the association board of directors, Hlass was banned from the Long Reach Village Center for allegedly harassing the management and censured by the CA board he served on for revealing confidential information. He denied any wrongdoing.

If Hlass is using his old business cards, his campaign finance report submitted Aug. 15 might provide a clue to the reason. He reported raising $45, [including a $20 loan from himself], and spending $16.35 of that since January.

He also reported debt of $513 - another loan from himself to his campaign. Most of that money was used to buy campaign shirts.

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