Travel request disputed

The Baltimore Sun

A state official has contradicted an Anne Arundel County employee's statement that she was acting as a private citizen when she requested the travel expenses of state lawmakers who represent the county, rekindling allegations that the action was taken for political purposes.

Rick L. Harrison, manager for fiscal operations at the Department of Legislative Services, said this week that Brenda Reiber orally requested the 2007 expenses for 20 lawmakers on behalf of her boss, Erik Robey, a high-ranking official in the Leopold administration.

Reiber said she sought the travel expenses, which are public record, during her lunch hour on Feb. 15, out of frustration with the $1.3 billion in tax increases passed in November by the General Assembly - and her interest in how much public money local delegates and senators spent last year on food, mileage and lodging.

Reiber withdrew her request Feb. 20, hours after lawmakers learned of her actions in an e-mail from Legislative Services that informed them of the records request.

Several Democrats last week called on County Executive John R. Leopold to fire those involved in the records request. A few took a less aggressive tack this week, although a few remain skeptical of Leopold's and Robey's assertions that they weren't involved, particularly in light of Harrison's rebuttal.

"I didn't buy that at all," said Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat.

No lawmakers have filed a formal complaint with the attorney's general's office, as some had threatened to do.

Employees who are "off the clock" have the right to engage in activities that are protected under the First Amendment, said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. That would include government workers who during their lunch time make requests for lawmakers' travel expenses, as Reiber did, she said.

But at least one lawmaker, Del. Barbara A. Frush, a Beltsville Democrat who represents portions of western Anne Arundel, said: "Maybe that is something we need to look into."

Lawmakers defended the right of the public to obtain their travel expenses, but several have called into question Reiber's motives, given that 15 delegates and five senators are taking up Leopold's legislative package. Some of Leopold's initiatives have been opposed by the County Council and have not gained traction among state lawmakers, even though he served alongside many of them during his 20 years in the House of Delegates.

"Never in my 33 years has an official from the county administration or the state administration ask for that kind of information," said Del. Virginia P. Clagett, a Democrat from West River.

A Glen Burnie Republican, Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., said: "The last thing we need is this kind of controversy," he said.

Following the outcry from legislators last week, Leopold took "appropriate action" against Reiber, who still holds her job.

When Reiber requested the travel expenses on Feb. 15, Harrison said he asked if the documents were being asked for on behalf of herself or for someone else - a standard question asked for all records requests.

Harrison said Reiber's response was: "Erik Robey."

"I took that to mean that she was requesting the information on behalf of Erik Robey," he said.

Harrison said he takes notes of his conversations because those who make in-person requests do not fill out forms.

Reiber, who previously served as Leopold's legislative aide in the House before joining his administration in late 2006, said she mentioned to Harrison in conversation that she was a county employee and worked for Robey, the assistant chief administrative officer. But she reaffirmed that she wanted the documents only for herself.

Reiber yesterday chalked up the differences of what was said to "communication issues."

Later on Feb. 15, Harrison said Reiber called to say that she would be leaving the office and if the information was available to call a phone number for Mark Chang, another constituent services specialist.

Chang told a reporter that "she did not let me know that anyone would be calling me."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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