Frederick County Commissioner David Gray is under scrutiny from other commissioners over ties to a county land-use nonprofit that has filed numerous lawsuits against the county.
Commissioners President Blaine Young sent Gray and other county officials an email Wednesday morning stating that Gray Enterprises was the documented tax preparer that handled the 2011 tax filings for Friends of Frederick County, a land-use and cultural preservation nonprofit that has been in near-constant litigation with the county over land-use issues in recent years.
When reached by phone Wednesday night, Gray said his wife, Sharon, owns the business, and that she prepares Friends of Frederick County’s tax documents without pay.
“I don’t get involved in that. I separate myself from those things,” Gray said. “My wife is free to volunteer for them. As far as I know, she’s never received any compensation.”
According to documents in the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation’s database of business entity filings, Sharon Gray signed a renewal application for a trade name filing for Gray Enterprises in 2011 and identified herself as the business owner. David Gray signed a similar form in 2007.
Sharon Gray said she’s filed taxes for Friends of Frederick County for several years and has never charged them, noting that she does pro bono work for nonprofits.
“I don’t discuss county business with them,” she said. “People are free to do what they want. (Preparing taxes for Friends of Frederick County) has nothing to do with who they sue.”
Young said that if Gray Enterprises prepared tax documents for Friends of Frederick County, David Gray could be violating the county’s ethics ordinance.
“He’s not the sole interpreter of that,” said Gray, regarding Young’s claim of a conflict of interest.
In Frederick County’s Code of Ordinances regarding ethics, under “employment and financial interest restrictions,” the ordinance states that a county official may not “hold any other employment relationship that would impair the impartiality or independence of judgment of the official or employee” unless permitted by the commission when the interest is disclosed and the employment does not create an appearance of conflict.
John Mathias, a county attorney, said he learned of the connection Wednesday after receiving Young’s email. Mathias declined to comment on whether it is a conflict of interest.
“Other than knowing David has done some tax work in the past, I know nothing about the ins and outs of his tax business,” he said. “Right now, these are just questions. Maybe it is his company, but I am not in a position to comment on that right now.”
Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, confirmed that the nonprofit used Gray Enterprises for tax preparation but said the commissioner himself was not involved in financial talks.
“David Gray doesn’t have anything to do with the finances of Friends of Frederick County,” Wiles said. “Several people work for Gray Enterprises. I never talked to him about anything with finances. We work with the company but don’t deal with him individually.”
Young said Gray should abstain from participating in any county commission operations involving the land-use nonprofit.
“I saw the 2011 filings of that organization, and I was just blown away,” Young said. “This is an organization that’s stalling Frederick County. They’re appealing everything we do. They’ve cost us tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”
Commissioner Billy Shreve said county commissioners should make county issues their priority and not be affiliated with organizations that are in litigation with the county.
“How do you allow someone who is potentially being paid by this group to represent the best interests of the citizens of this county?” Shreve said. “If he came to me for advice on this, I’d tell him to go out and get a good lawyer.”
Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @danieljgross.