Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner signed a check November 18 last year for $10,750 payable to the Chamber of Commerce as the County’s contribution to a lobbying effort in Annapolis for state funds for the downtown hotel. The payment was never announced publicly and the County Exec did not discuss the contribution widely within County government.
Republican councillors, who oppose public subsidies for the hotel, say they knew nothing about it. ADDITION: County Executive Gardner says in response that spending on lobbyists by the executive, at the executive’s discretion is a long established practice. She cites an email of April 3 from an assistant who went on a search of past use of lobbyists by County government. See the end of this report for details.
Critics note that neither the hotel project nor financial support for lobbying was mentioned in the County Executive’s public session on county legislative priorities.
The payment seems to be quite legal. The County Charter provides [514. (d) p21] that the County Council must authorize any spending in the amount of $20,000 and more. Implicit there is that the County Exec has the legal right to write the check to the Chamber of Commerce for $10,750 without Council authorization.
The City Mayor Randy McClement wrote a check for the same amount of $10,750 to the Chamber of Commerce, and he too avoided taking the matter to the Board of Aldermen. City support for the lobbying is less controversial since there is the support of all the Aldermen, and it is a City project.
The Chamber of Commerce is believed to have also got contributions for the lobbying from the quasi-County Tourism Council and the quasi-City Downtown Partnership. The Chamber of Commerce declines to reveal the scale of its lobbying effort, but with $21,500 from the two local governments it is probably around $30,000 this year.
Under the Public Information Act we requested all documents relating to the lobbying campaign. It turned up nothing beyond invoices and the check. We got no memos outlining the rationale for the expenditure, the proposed scope of the advocacy work involved, contributions by other contributors etc.
Any discussions must have been oral, perhaps to avoid disclosure.
The Chamber of Commerce invoice for $10,750 was addressed to Helen Propheter, at the County Office of Economic Development. The description avoids the words ‘hotel’ and ‘lobbying.’ It even eschews the term ‘advocacy.’ Instead it is “Downtown Frederick Infrastructure Project — State Legislative Services — Greenwill Consulting.” (see nearby)
Greenwill Consulting run by Ivan Lanier describes itself as “a highly regarded bi-partisan boutique government relations firm in Annapolis.”
It is the fourth year such a lobbying campaign has been mounted in Annapolis on behalf of the hotel project by Greenwill, and the total spent by the so-called ‘hotel team partners’ must now be getting up toward $200,000.
State funding has been on and off. It’s now on again.
The Young-Miller deal
By all accounts the latest success in gaining support for $16 million in the General Assembly was a personal deal between Senate president Mike Miller and Frederick senator Ron Young, based on needing to hold the Senate seat in the next election. The Greenwill advocacy may have smoothed the way for acceptance among Democratic Party leadership in the House as well. Delegates Carol Krimm and Karen Lewis Young have likely been influential too.
Governor Hogan does not appear to have been influenced positively by Greenwill advocacy. If anything he has hardened against the Frederick project, we understand. His line item veto was only withheld because he did not have the numbers to avoid an over-ride of his veto.
Hogan was strongly pressed to cut off state funding for the hotel by Senator Michael
Hough and local Delegates Kathy Afzali and Barrie Ciliberti.
The Governor retains powers of ‘impoundment’ — declining to release the money. The tussle goes on. This year’s check for hotel lobbying may not be the last.
Kirby Delauter comments:
County Councillor Kirby Delauter says he asked about the lobbying money being spent on promoting the City hotel to state legislators:
I was told it was basically “ none of my business” and the Executive signs many checks on a day to day basis without council oversight.Once again, Jan Gardner has snookered you and many others for your votes under her guise of “ Open and Transparent Government where everyone can be part of the process”.It’s open and transparent only for what she wants you to see.As you can see the Democrats and CP Otis are silent because they support the closed door policies that we now have at Winchester Hall.
County Executive Gardner responds: ‘It is an established practice’
County Executive Gardner says “the rest of the story” is that she had a staffer compile a list of past spending on lobbyists she says was shared with the County Council members. This indicates there have been previous payments to lobbyists by the executive on behalf of other projects.
County staffer Heidi Keeney emailed the council members April 3:
“I have compiled a listing of all payments to lobbyists I have been able to locate. Prior to 2011, the county spent no money on lobbyists. Identified below is spending on lobbyists for various purposes starting with the prior administration:
— A check of $25,000 was issued to PPP Associates LLC on 8/4/11 for privatization.
— A check of $25,000 was issued to Frederick Area Committee for Transportation (FACT) with an MOU dated 10/23/13. FACT forwarded payment of $25,000 to Greenwill.
— $101,000 total was issued to Funk & Bolton for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition/TDML Coalition during the timeframe of 11/16/12 – 11/21/14.
— The Rural County Coalition received a total of $15,000 during the timeframe of 12/28/11 – 11/14/13 (first invoice paid to Allegany County Commissioners, formally Rural County Alliance). Bruce Bereano was the lobbyist for Rural County Coalition.
— The Office of Economic Development has issued the Chamber of Commerce $24,750 total during the timeframe of FY15 – FY17 for Greenwill. These payments began during the term of the prior administration. Greenwill has lobbied for Frederick County interests including the conference center and transportation issues such as completion of the multimodal I-270 study.
Payments toward various obligations of the County are routinely approved by administration on a regular basis. The Council has no role in these day to day payment activities.”
COMMENT: We guess this use of lobbyists for state funding of the hotel has become such a hot issue because feelings run so strong that this is a bad and stupid project, that local government should not be specifying and sponsoring a hotel, that it should not be picking a site, that the so-called competed procurement was anything but, that the site it has picked is really dumb, too small for the specified hotel, that it doesn’t fit the historic district, and that it is insanely irresponsible to spend $84m for a facility which the City’s own financial consultants say will be valued at around $30m when it opens… we could go on. end