Wheels In Motion ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wheels In Motion

Last week, local political operative and FOE and FOJ (Friend of Josh) Kathy Nieberding sent out a news release about Alderman Sheila Finlayson's announcement for re-election (making here an FOS). Nieberding, a close supporter of and fundraiser for Ellen O Moyer is also running Josh Cohen's campaign. A day or two later, another Cohen operative, Judd Legum (formerly of the Hillary Clinton campaign and now a candidate for District 30 delegate) sent out a news release for Cohen stating that Finlayson and also former Ward 7 Republican Alderman Mike Fox now endorse Cohen for mayor. Wheels in motion.

Why is a Democratic Alderwoman endorsing another Democrat before the primary--and so early? Why is a former alderman, who happens to be a county planner and a Republican, endorsing a Democratic candidate? A case can be made without much argument that Finlayson and Cohen have been among the closest supporters of Ellen Moyer, and Finlayson just voted against the city manager amendment, for the mayoral pay increase and for the mayor's hyper-budget. Wheels in motion.

Cohen, who likely believes he will be elected mayor is building upon his relationships to do what he can do to stack the future city council in his favor. While this may be the way things are done and business as usual, that's a lot of gears to mesh, but ambition requires hard work. He has a full-time job, a family, a part-time job and is trying to get a new job and already trying to make sure that new job will work best for him. If he gets that new job and it comes with a city manager, I would bet he'll do his best to garner five votes to either control and/or get rid of that position. Wheels in motion.

If Cohen wins for mayor, who is he likely to suggest to the other Democratic members of county council to replace him? Might that be Sheila Finlayson? One might ask, why would he give up a likely ally on city council? Maybe because we would then need to hold a special election (and again at great cost) to replace Finlayson, originally elected in a special election--and barely....whereby the new mayor and allies could prop up their own choice and get two friends for the price of one, so to speak. We really do not need another special election. Maybe it's just speculation. Who knows? Surely Cohen, the consummate politician, is already considering who he will suggest to replace him so might this explain why Finlayson would be endorsing him--and so early? I also recall disgraced Democratic operative Chuck Weikel, yes he of the Annapolis Alive fiasco, telling me once how much he personally supported Finalyson. Think about what this must do for the Finlayson-Shropshire relationship. Are Dems writing off Shropshire? Wheels in motion.

Fox might be a close contender for a super FOE. Ellen O. gave him a position with the Volvo Ocean Race Committee so he got to take some nice trips to Volvo race ports. Fox was also involved in the whole Annapolis Alive, Celebrate 300 "thing."

The Capital editorialized on June 7, 2001 as follows:

"OUR SAY - Alderman should avoid appearance of conflict of interest

AS THE SMALLER the jurisdiction, and the smaller the pool of community leaders, the harder it is for government officials to avoid apparent conflicts of interest. You get situations like the one Annapolis Alderman Michael Fox got into when he was asked to join a regional board organizing an Annapolis visit by the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race a visit requiring legislation Mr. Fox, as an alderman, is sponsoring.

It's not that Mr. Fox was oblivious to the notion of conflict of interest. Just to be safe, he asked the city attorney for an ethics ruling when he accepted a free trip to South Africa from the race committee. The attorney's view: No violation.

Today, however, Mr. Fox has still found himself in a controversy over his dual role as alderman and race organizer. The controversy highlights a hole in the city's ethics law and the importance of recognizing that even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided.

Mr. Fox, along with other aldermen, is now sponsoring legislation allowing Volvo to lease space at City Dock for nine days during next year's event. As during the race's visit to Annapolis in 1998 (when it was sponsored by Whitbread), the cost is to be a token $1 certainly a nice deal. Did Volvo's hospitality which included a four-day stay in South Africa and other trips to Sweden and England influence Mr. Fox?

We don't think so. Given the success of the race's 1998 visit, of course City Council members want to get it back and are willing to offer the same terms. But Mr. Fox's dual role does create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

City Attorney Paul Goetzke said the trips didn't violate the city ethics laws. His view is that the trips were not gifts, but were simply an expense necessary for Volvo to bring its management team to overseas meetings.

Perhaps the city attorney is right and, technically, there was no violation. But if the city's ethics laws don't see a conflict here, they need tightening.

Perhaps city officials should look at the county's ethics rules, which prompted another member of the Volvo board William Badger, chief executive officer of the quasi-private Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. to step down. As the county, like the city, has budgeted $50,000 for the race, the county Ethics Commission warned Mr. Badger of a possible conflict.

We honestly don't think either Mr. Fox or Mr. Badger would do harm to taxpayers because of their positions on the board. This race pumped millions of dollars into the local economy in 1998 so it makes sense for them to be trying to bring it back and assure race participants the same warm reception they got last time.

But the appearance of a conflict of interest is strong. Just to stay on the safe side, Mr. Fox should recuse himself from council discussions and votes relating to this event."

Even back then, there were some questions raised. Let's review The Capital from 1-10-06 (paragraph breaks removed) n which questions were raised about Mr. Fox and Josh Cohen came to his defense:

"In their first meeting, the new City Council last night debated an ethics issue, heard a warning about utility rates and worked through some growing pains.The closest thing to fireworks during an otherwise collegial meeting came when four alderman called for the ethics commission to examine the appointment of former alderman Michael Fox to the city Planning Commission.The aldermen argued that Mr. Fox's job as a county planner and his past as a two-term alderman present a conflict in the new post. Appointed by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, Mr. Fox overcame the opposition and was confirmed in a 5-4 vote."I wanted just a mere two weeks," said Alderman David H. Cordle, R-Ward 5. "That's not an unreasonable amount of time to postpone the appointment and make sure that there's not a conflict of interest from the city standpoint."Mr. Cordle was joined by aldermen Julie Stankivic, Michael Christman and Dick Israel voting against Mr. Fox and calling for the ethics probe.Alderman Josh Cohen, D-Ward 8 disagreed, saying that Mr. Fox, was "eminently qualified.""He'll bring planning experience and familiarity with city development issues," Mr. Cohen said."

Now, The Market House....At his recent mayoral announcement, Josh Cohen was quoted in The Capital on March 28, 2009 as follows: “The Market House has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with Annapolis.”

Indeed. What did he really mean by "everything that is wrong in Annapolis?". Would that mean an Annapolis made wrong by Ellen? By Sheila? By him and Mike Fox and Ellen?

His record while he was on city council shows us his earlier views on The Market House:

The Capital, October 12, 2005: “The current City Council made this mess (the Market House). It’s our responsibility to clean it up.”

The Capital, October 20, 2005: Voted against holding a special meeting to review what went wrong with “the city’s failed courtship with Dean & DeLuca.”

The Capital, November 17, 2005: “On the whole, it’s (the lease with Site Realty) is pretty good,” said Alderman Josh Cohen, D-Ward 8, who reviewed the lease with the Finance Committee.

The Capital, September 29, 2006: “I just want this (the Market House AC) to be resolved as quickly as possible, but we can’t rush it.”

Mike Fox also voted with Cohen for the Market House lease which turned out to be, as we now know, disastrous. Perhaps this symbolizes everything that is wrong with Annapolis?

Finlayson, Fox, Cohen, Moyer and Nieberding...and let us not forget FOE and FOJ Beth Garraway who headed up the compensation committee (to pave the way for Cohen's new salary???) and we remember that story. Where does it lead? To Chuck Weikel, Democratic Central Committee member whose alternate is Beth Garraway? Garraway, an educaitonal professional as is Hoyle, Finlaysoon and Moyer, put on a fundraiser for Cohen, and who pushed the compensation committee to recommend a salary just right for a "young candidate with a family".

More Wheels in Motion coming soon....

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