Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Going Negative Already III

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, September 21, 2006

Someone filed an ethics complaint against County Councilman and County Executive candidate Chris Merdon for a mailer he sent to Howard County residents encouraging their testimony is support of his Senior Citizen Property Tax Cut proposal.

I haven’t seen the mailer but from press reports it contained two pages.The Baltimore Sun

The letter was labeled at the top “From the Desk of County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon.” At the bottom, the page had a campaign authority line labeling it as campaign literature. The second page was a copy of a County Council news release issued by Merdon and Charles C. Feaga, his Republican co-sponsor, when they announced the bill last month. That page carries the county seal, which by county law is not allowed on campaign materials.

The Howard County Times

The commission received a complaint about the two-page mailing that contained a county government press release announcing a Republican senior citizen tax credit plan as well as a letter from Merdon’s campaign encouraging support for the proposal, executive secretary Jeff Starnes told The (Baltimore) Sun.

Now according to Carol Saffran Brinks, the County Attorney who works with the ethics commission, no one is supposed to be talking about ethics complaints, not even confirm them.  From the Howard County Times:

Carol Saffran Brinks, a Howard County Office of Law attorney who works with the Ethics Commission, told the Howard County Times the commission is not allowed to confirm or deny investigations.

Who is Jeff Starnes.  As reported in the paper his is a political appointee (so he is going to recuse himself from the review).  He is also a $1,000 donor to Jim Robey, sometimes golfing partner, and an assistant to Mr. Robey.  I don’t know what he is executive secretary of, but by recusing himself it infers he has something to do with the ethics commission.  He isn’t listed on the commission site.  I did a search of the County site and couldn’t find anything that related him to the commission either.

If the commission isn’t allowed to confirm or deny investigations why did Mr. Starnes do so?  As a member of the commission he shouldn’t have.  If he isn’t a member of the commission he should not even be aware of an ethics complaint.

I wonder if someone will be filing an ethics complaint against Mr. Starnes?  Maybe I should?

Back to Merdon.  So he sent out a letter on campaign letterhead and included a copy of the County Council press release.  The law is supposed to protect citizens from people using the County Seal by unauthorized persons so they know they are receiving legitimate information about County business.  I think Mr. Merdon was doing just that.  Now he could have sent his letter out on County Council letterhead a la Ken Ulman’s beautification awards letter.  But then he would have had an ethics complaint about that too.  Never mind. 

BTW: Ken Ulman is still using his County Council telephone number as his public campaign telephone number (as listed at the Board of Elections) is someone going to file an ethics complaint against Mr. Ulman for utilizing County Government resources for political campaign activity?  I don’t think so.  But it is an oversight that he should correct.

Let me tell you what is really going on here.

  1. Merdon is putting out solid proposals and actually turning them into legislation that will pass before the election

  2. Merdon is going to put out more solid proposals and they won’t be window dressing zoning legislation

  3. Someone is trying to intimidate Merdon and influence voters through an ethics complaint

  4. Someone wants us to believe Chris Merdon is “UNETHICAL”

  5. Merdon is being accused of ethics violations and being smeared in the press through a leak that was a clear violation of ethics.

  6. Calvin Ball is crying partisanship when he and Mssrs. Guzzone and Ulman didn’t include Merdon in any of their zoning legislation.  It is ok to do an end around on Merdon but when Merdon goes out on his own he cries foul?  Come on.

  7. Someone is scared that Merdon is going to win

In closing, you might recall that some primary candidates for the House of Delegates 9A were accused of violating this same law by using the County Seal on their websites.  I think the Democratic candidate in 9A put it best:

“I’ll take it off my Web site, but I want a fair trial and a quick hanging,”


2 Responses to “Going Negative Already III”

  1. Ann said

    Isn’t it Ken Ulman who has all those oversized (illegal) signs on the community property throughout Columbia? Also, Ken is starting to put out his own plan (before/after school programs), even though he criticized Merdon’s weekly announcements as “political rhetoric.”

    Yes, it is obvious they Dems are afraid of losing this election.

  2. observer said

    if going after Merdon for insignificant things like this is the best he can do, he’s already lost this one.

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