Sun Investigates

Baltimore City, P.G. County sent largest numbers to 'who's who' Vegas convention

Since the weekend, Las Vegas has served as a sort of glitzy Maryland West -- with government and business leaders from the state attending the Global Retail Real Estate Convention in droves.

With galas and events at casinos, the annual four-day conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), which ended Wednesday, serves as the ultimate business-government networking event with more than 20,000 in attendance.


Mayors and various county executives have been attending for years (former Mayor O'Malley's delegation spent $80,000 on the trip in 2002, for instance), but how each jurisdiction chooses to represent themselves at the event shines some light on the administration's priorities. About 40 members from seven local governments attended, according to a published list of attendees.

This year, Baltimore City and Prince George's County sent the largest number of representatives to the conference: nine each. That's more than Gov. O'Malley's administration, which sent four representatives, and all other jurisdictions in the state. It was unclear how much the visits would cost taxpayers; the City's Board of Estimates has already approved close to $10,000 for some of Baltimore's portion of the trip, but the final tally should be significantly higher once receipts are submitted.


Under the Maryland Public Information Act, The Sun has requested receipts and expenditures for each of the Maryland delegations attending.

Baltimore County sent only one representative funded by taxpayer dollars: County Executive Kevin Kamentez. Spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said he traveled without any staff.

"Given the current fiscal constraints County Executive Kamenetz decided to reduce costs significantly by not having any staff members accompany him," Kobler wrote in an email to The Sun. "It is very important for the county to have a presence at the annual ICSC convention for the shopping center industry. It's an exceptional opportunity to promote important economic development projects that bring jobs to the County."

Kobler added that any County Council members who attended had to pay their own way. Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond told colleague Alison Knezevich that Almond, Cathy Bevins and John Olszewski, Sr. paid out of their own pockets.

Almond described the event as a"who's who of Baltimore County and Maryland politics." She said it was important for networking and business development, but since she spent time on personal activities there, she believed it inappropriate to bill the county.

"Putting it on the bill for the county would just be wrong," she said.

* Baltimore City and Prince George's County each sent nine staff members, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young and Councilman Carl Stokes also attended. City spokesman Ian Brennan said one of Rawlings-Blake's priorities on the trip was trying to persuade retailers to come to "food deserts" in Baltimore. He said last year's event helped secure a badly-needed ShopRite for Howard Park.

* Howard and Harford counties sent five representatives, including County Executives Ken Ulman and David Craig. Howard spokesman Kevin Enright noted that four of the five attending from his county were members of the quasi-public Howard County Economic Development Authority, which does not directly answer to Ulman.

* The State of Maryland sent four representatives, including Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Department of Business and Economic Development director Christian Johansson.


* The government of Annapolis and Harve de Grace each sent three members, including Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen.

* Carroll County sent its economic development director John Lyburn.

The event -- which was also attended by business leaders from the Cordish Co., H&S Bakery and General Growth Properties, among others --  featured comedian Dennis Milller and guest speaker Malcolm Gladwell (author of "Outliers," "The Tipping Point," etc.) ABC's Joan Lunden hosted a discussion between Former U.S. Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Tom Daschle(D-S.D.).

Rawlings-Blake herself participated in a panel discussion entitled "America's Cities: Rebuilding, Revitalizing, Redeveloping."

In 2002, then-mayor O'Malley's delegation spent $80,000 in taxpayer funds when it set up a glossy Baltimore booth complete with Phillips crab balls and Berger Cookies in an attempt to lure developers here. In 2007, developer Patrick Turner used the event in an attempt to drum up retailers for his Westport project.