Todd Huff says he's not a big football fan, but in 2011 he attended at least four games, including taking a trip to Dallas to see the Super Bowl with a local shopping center and apartment complex owner.
The games highlight a hole that the State Ethics Commission says exists in legislation passed by the County Council earlier this year. The legislation was meant to bring county law substantially into sync with the state ethics law.
Huff, a Timonium Republican, attended at least four games in 2011, including the Super Bowl. He wrote about the games, which include three Baltimore Ravens games, on his official council Facebook page.
None of the tickets were disclosed on Huff's recently released 2011 financial disclosure forms that were filed with the county.
"I filled out my disclosure form as legally required this year and I plan to do the same next year," Huff said.
County Law Falls Short
In their most recent filings, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Council members Vicki Almond, Cathy Bevins, David Marks, John Olszewski Sr. and Tom Quirk all reported receiving tickets to sporting events or other trips in 2011 from developers.
Only Huff and Councilman Ken Oliver did not disclose receiving any tickets as gifts in 2011.
Earlier this year, the meant to make its laws substanially equivalent to state ethics laws.
The updates made it illegal for county employees to accept tickets to sporting events, but carved out exemptions for the county executive and the seven-member council. The bill also exempted the eight elected officials from mandatory disclosure of such gifts.
Michael Lord, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, was not immediately available for an interview.
But a lawyer representing the state Ethics Commission stated in a letter that state law does not allow elected officials to accept tickets to sporting events.
In a Feb. 24 letter to the county, the lawyer said, the "acceptance of [tickets for] sporting events has not been allowed by state law for many years." The lawyer told the county that it must change its law to conform with the state laws.
The lawyer also advised that the county must require elected officials to disclose when they accept tickets to other cultural, charitable or political activities. Council members would not have to report those tickets if the invitation is extended to all seven members.
State legislators are frequently invited to attend events, but those invitations are often extended to all of the members of a particular committee or to the entire House of Delegates or Senate.
The organization that invites the legislators then discloses the invitation to state officials and it is disclosed to the public.
In a brief interview with Patch last Thursday, Huff acknowledged accepting the tickets from Merritt Properties. He added that those were the only tickets he accepted from a person or business who does business with the county or is regulated by the county.
Huff paused when asked about the Super Bowl trip with J.M. Schapiro, who owns three apartment complexes and at least one shopping center.
"I forgot about that," Huff said.
He added that Schapiro did not pay for his airfare to Dallas or his hotel while at the event.
Schapiro is one of three principals at Continental Realty, which owns and operates shopping centers and apartment complexes, including 10 shopping centers and 13 apartment complexes in the county.
"He's my landlord," Huff said.
Continental Realty and Merritt Properties are also campaign contributors.
Continental Realty donated a total of $3,000 to Huff through three different companies that control three separate apartment complexes. Merritt Properties also made three donations totaling $2,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections.
When asked about the other two games noted on his Facebook page, Huff said he purchased them himself. He could not say how many tickets he bought or who attended.
Huff did say that during those games he visited "five or six suites," including one used by the governor and visited Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger. The councilman could not say what other suites he visited.
"I don't remember, I'm not a big football fan," Huff said.
The councilman ended the interview to attend a pre-scheduled meeting in his office. He agreed to meet later in the day to further discuss the issue of the tickets.
Huff met with Patch in a second brief interview at an elevator outside the council offices in Towson.
During that interview, Huff acknowledged being defensive.
"You're questioning my integrity," he said.
During that interview, Huff said the tickets he originally claimed to have purchased himself were actually "given to me by a buddy."
"I can't go to a game with a friend?" Huff said.
When asked to identify the friend, Huff replied: "I don't have to disclose that to you."
The councilman later ended the interview by stepping on the elevator and closing the door.
Outside, Huff again encountered the reporter and began answering questions about the tickets.
He said he believed that he legally could accept the tickets and did not have to disclose who provided them. He said he did not seek a formal opinion from the county Ethics Commission or Office of Law.
He also initially said he could not remember who told him that accepting tickets to sporting events was legally permissible. Later he said "a colleague" on the council told him that, but declined to identify which council member advised him.
The acceptance of sporting event tickets met with disapproval from one local community activist.
Donna Spicer, a Loch Raven resident, called the sporting event tickets "a gateway drug" and said county elected officials should just say "no."
"It leads to bigger and better things," Spicer said. "If a developer gives you a ticket and you don't want to hurt their feelings, find a kid who doesn't have a dad and give the tickets to him."
Elected county officials need to consider the appearance of accepting such tickets, Spicer said.
"They should be above reproach," she said. "Is it worth having their intergirty questioned over the price of a ticket? They need to ask themselves that question."
"You can avoid that by keeping your hands in your pockets and not putting your hand out for it," Spicer said.