- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — When Michael E. Busch considered leaving the legislature in 2000 for a much-higher-paying state job, Anne Arundel County officials were worried that they would lose their most influential lawmaker, one with the power to help the county get what it needed from the General Assembly.

As part of the lobbying campaign to keep him in the General Assembly, County Executive Janet Owens offered him a pay increase for his second job, in the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

Mrs. Owens boosted his pay grade, providing an immediate $3,010 pay increase and a 41 percent increase in his salary during the past 2 years.

Now that he has risen to the position of speaker of the House of Delegates, some Republicans and ethics experts say his dual role as county employee and legislator holds the potential for conflicts of interest.

And though Mr. Busch defends his ability to do both jobs independently, he acknowledges that a provision in Anne Arundel’s ethics law could force him to leave the legislature or give up his job as assistant to the director of recreation and parks.

Mr. Busch, 56, said he can reconcile the demands of his two jobs. He said he votes for the best interests of his constituents, which usually are the same as the county’s best interests. But he notes that he did vote this year for a workers’ compensation bill that county officials opposed.

“If people want to accuse me of being supportive of Anne Arundel County, go ahead,” Mr. Busch told the Baltimore Sun.

The possible conflicts cited by critics involve cases where Mr. Busch has sponsored bond bills providing state money for parks and recreation projects, such as $250,000 for lighted baseball fields. He also pushed two bills that did not pass and would have provided money for a swimming pool and Special Olympics training center and an amphitheater at Quiet Waters Park.

State ethics laws allow the speaker to vote on bills after disclosing his employment as a county employee. Mrs. Owens praises Mr. Busch as a natural leader in the recreation department, and former Republican County Executive John Gary describes Mr. Busch as an honest man.

But ethics experts and some Republicans say there might be problems with Mr. Busch, a Democrat, getting state funds for his county agency.

“There is one fundamental ethics requirement in government: It is unlawful to use public office for private gain,” said Kathryn Denhardt, an associate professor at the University of Delaware.

But she said that typically applies to officials using their positions to benefit a private company, and that Mr. Busch is bringing home money to a government agency and does not stand to receive a bonus for his work.

Miss Denhardt said the pay increases are troubling. She said she believes that Mr. Busch’s dual roles create the perception of a conflict.

Mr. Busch is one of 18 Maryland legislators who hold federal, state or local government jobs, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

When Mr. Gary was county executive, he decided he did not want county employees reporting to Mr. Busch because he took a three-month leave every year for the General Assembly session.

“There is a conflict,” Mr. Gary said of the sometimes competing interests of the state and the county.

“Busch is a person of character,” he said. “What if it wasn’t a person of character?”

Mr. Busch said that no one has ever filed a complaint against him, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if that happens now that Republicans have targeted him for opposing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s slot-machine legislation.

He said that if the county ethics law becomes a problem, causing him to abstain from too many votes, he would have to give up one of the jobs.

In that case, he would remain as speaker, collecting a salary of $47,500, and give up the county job. The salary for the county job is $84,862 a year, but Mr. Busch accepts only $71,806 because of the time he spends on his legislative duties.

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