10.01.2008 0

Fur Coats, Favors, and Friends

  • On: 10/14/2008 15:25:53
  • In: Government Transparency

  • Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon is discovering that one’s personal life can’t be hidden from public scrutiny—even when covered in fur coats. Of which, Mayor Dixon has more than a few. And state prosecutors believe that at least some of them were gifts given her by one Mr. Ronald H. Lipscomb, owner of the development company Doracon Contracting. The two friends, we are told, had a “personal relationship,” and exchanged luxurious gifts. Sounds lovely, right? But wait, there’s a problem.

    Mr. Lipscomb courted Ms. Dixon’s favor with expensive forays into New York, Chicago, Boston, and the Bahamas—in addition, of course, to the fur coats. (Sometimes, the gifts were funneled through a third party—Doracon’s vice president, who was then reimbursed). Ms. Dixon, then head of the city council, returned the favor by voting to approve a $13.6 million tax break for one of Lipscomb’s projects and voting to change zoning laws to allow another major project overseen by her “friend” to proceed.

    While the circumstances surrounding these contracts are suspect, to put it mildly, any doubt of culpability is removed when it is discovered that Ms. Dixon did not report any of the gifts she received. That stands in contravention to city law, which requires council members to report under oath any gifts they have received by persons or companies who may benefit from the council member’s duties.

    And benefit Mr. Lipscomb most certainly did.

    Ms. Dixon did not confine her gifts to her romantic interest, however. Her former campaign manager was hired without a contract to work on the city council’s computers—for a half-million dollars. Some of the Doracon projects Dixon pushed also benefited her sister’s company, which was hired by Doracon after it received its massive tax break.

    In 2005, Doracon was fined for exceeding the allowed campaign contribution limits. Lipscomb and his company, it turns out, had given contributions to several politicians, Dixon among them.

    Mayor Dixon has defended herself, saying that “there is a process,” and that their “brief relationship was personal, and it did not influence my decisions related to matters of city government.” Unfortunately for her, state prosecutors aren’t buying it.

    Following the Baltimore Sun’s expose of these shady practices, a state investigation was launched, aimed at uncovering any impropriety in Mayor Sheila Dixon’s actions. Her case is now before a grand jury, which will decide if the charges are true. Ms. Dixon may end up losing more than just a fur coat, once all is said and done. Let’s hope for her sake that she looks as good in an orange jumpsuit as she does in sable.

    ALG Perspective: It seems that nepotism isn’t limited to congressmen from South Carolina. Whatever happened to being “above reproach”? Do politicians today have no sense of decency or propriety?

    Unfortunately, this case proves that James Madison was right when he stated:

    If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. (Federalist 51)

    But men are not angels, thus their actions must ever be scrutinized by the public eye, lest they become corrupt, distorting justice and welcoming bribes. Or fur coats.

    The Baltimore Sun’s investigative reporters are to be congratulated for breaking this story, which could break corruption’s stranglehold on yet another government office.

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