Officials' phone records show political, personal contacts

PoliticsElectionsKevin KamenetzHurricane Sandy (2012)Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeMGM Resorts International

Days before last November’s election, Gov. Martin O’Malley used his cellphone to call Jim Murren, the chief executive of MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas.

The two talked for 11 minutes that Sunday. Not surprisingly, the topic was the Nov. 6 referendum in which voters would decide whether to allow expanded casino gambling, according to O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, who didn’t provide details of the conversation. Maryland voters approved the O’Malley-backed measure.

MGM had a lot riding on the outcome. The company spent about $40 million lobbying for passage — key to its hope of building a proposed $800 million casino in Prince George’s County.

The phone call was one of dozens detailed last month by the governor’s office in response to a Public Information Act request from The Baltimore Sun. The Sun wanted to know who he and other elected officials were calling on their cellphones while conducting public business.

The Sun initially sought a full year of O’Malley’s cellphone records. But the newspaper limited the request to a two-week period last fall after the governor’s office said it would charge a hefty fee to isolate 12 months of work calls from his primary phone — a personal cellphone, not a state one.

The Sun also requested a year of detailed cell records from four Baltimore-area county executives and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Their varied responses show how differently governments sometimes respond to nearly identical records requests governed by the same state law.

Baltimore County and Harford County both provided a year of records for their executives’ county-issued phones.

But the city said it would have to hire a temporary worker — at The Sun’s expense — to redact all phone numbers of Rawlings-Blake’s family members and public employees. So The Sun scaled back its city request to just Oct. 28 to Nov. 10, the same span it asked the governor’s office to produce.

Anne Arundel County, meanwhile, said it had only summary pages listing monthly usage and costs for the county phone issued to John Leopold, the former executive, but no details for any calls.

And Howard County said it had no records because County Executive Ken Ulman uses a personal phone, subsidized by $105 a month from the county. Officials say giving workers stipends rather than phones saves the county about $700,000 a year.

Ultimately, Howard voluntarily provided a month’s worth of Ulman’s work-related calls and text messages — mostly to or from county staff members and area politicians.

O’Malley’s office blacked out every phone number but listed the name or entity O’Malley spoke to on each call. Over two weeks he spent more than seven hours on the phone. He made more than two hours of calls to news outlets. He also made more than an hour of calls related to Hurricane Sandy, which battered the Lower Eastern Shore and Western Maryland in late October.

One of O’Malley’s longer calls came when he spoke for 24 minutes to former Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton. The Baltimore Police Department has agreed to pay $285,000 to a consulting firm with ties to Bratton, an ally of Commissioner Anthony Batts. Bratton didn’t respond to a reporter’s email, and Guillory said she didn’t know what he and the governor discussed.

In contrast to the governor’s office, local governments provided phone numbers but no names. And some were less forthcoming than others.

For example, the city blacked out numbers for 70 percent of Rawlings-Blake’s 265 calls because they belonged to her relatives or government workers. Most of the numbers it gave were for calls to an apparent voice mail service, along with a dozen calls to the news media.

By comparison, for the same two weeks, Baltimore County held back numbers on 18 percent of the calls and Harford just 8 percent. Then again, the two counties included some home numbers of relatives and county employees.

Harford Executive David Craig most frequently called a number that is a cellphone registered to his name, according to a review of the records.

And Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz often called a number associated with Fred Homan, the county’s administrative officer. Kamenetz also frequently spoke to political consultant David Heller, even though he isn’t up for re-election until 2014.

Heller, whose Main Street Communications is based in Washington, explained that Kamenetz isn’t just a client, he’s a friend. Their families even took in a Bruce Springsteen concert together. “We just have a relationship that transcends the professional,” Heller said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PoliticsElectionsKevin KamenetzHurricane Sandy (2012)Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeMGM Resorts International
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