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Gift and Take: State Delegate Tries to Explain Entry on Financial Disclosure Form

March 3, 2008

On Feb. 28, after City Paper published the financial disclosure forms filed to the Maryland State Ethics Commission by members of Baltimore’s General Assembly delegation, Del. Ruth Kirk called to address two items listed on her form.

Maryland ethics laws require legislators to disclose all gifts they receive from persons who do business with the state. Under that category, Kirk listed “Economic Matters Committee,” which, strictly speaking, is not a gift, unless she regards her appointment to the committee as one. But Kirk insists that is not what she had in mind. “I didn’t get a gift, I was giving a gift,” she tells City Paper. Kirk explains that members of the committee usually pass the hat to purchase drinks and snacks to sustain them during their often lengthy meetings, but that sometimes she goes out to Sam’s Club and buys extra snacks, juice, peanuts, and cookies without asking for reimbursement. “Sometimes we meet for five hours,” she says. “People get hungry.”

Del. Kirk also spoke about her chairmanship of the “House-East West Advisory Board”–an entity she listed on the form where it instructs legislators to disclose any “salaried employment, office or directorship with an entity that did business with the state.” Kirk says the board holds monthly meetings on the 13th Floor at 417 E. Fayette St., the building where Baltimore Housing is located. “It’s a gathering of community leaders,” Kirk explains. “We all live in the community. We want to make sure our streets are clean, alleys are clean, and houses are all boarded up.”

Deputy Commissioner of Baltimore Housing Reggie Scriber, who heads the commission’s community services program, says the House-East West Advisory Board is modeled after President Johnson’s anti-poverty initiatives of the 1960s. “It’s not what I’d call an official board,” Scriber says of the informal monthly meeting that Kirk has chaired since 1975, according to her form. “But we’ve kept them because they have something to offer. It’s mostly elderly women from all over the city, and we have a lot of respect for their voice.”

The next meeting of the House-East West Advisory Board is scheduled for the third week in April, after the General Assembly session has ended.