A local blogger who has been hammering away at Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway – publishing documents and saying they prove she actually resides in Baltimore County – now has another document to add to his trove.
Conaway, who says Adam Meister’s columns about her are libelous and defamatory and is suing him for $21 million, signed an affidavit last year certifying that her primary residence was in Baltimore County.
Posted recently by the website Baltileaks, the affidavit, signed by Belinda K. Conaway and her husband Milton D. Washington, states that a home at 9810 Southall Rd. in Randallstown “is his/her/their principal place of residence.”
The affidavit is part of public records on an $8,700 line of credit the couple received from the Municipal Employee Credit Union of Baltimore on the Randallstown home in January 2010.
City council members are required to live in the district they represent – a requirement Conaway says she meets because her principal residence is her father’s Northwest Baltimore home, 3210 Liberty Heights Ave.
(It’s quite a full house over there. Other family members who say they live there include Belinda Conaway’s father, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway Sr. and her stepmother, Register of Wills Mary Conaway. Also in there, officially: Belinda’s brother, State Del. Frank Conaway Jr.)
Why, if she doesn’t live there, did Councilwoman Conaway sign the affidavit saying her primary residence is in the Baltimore County community of Randallstown?
“Small Print, Boiler Plate Language”
It was a mistake, according to her attorney Thomas J. Maronick Jr.
“She unfortunately, when you go to settlement, even people who are sophisticated individuals like a city councilwoman don’t always read everything before they sign it,” Maronick said. “There’s a lot of small print boiler plate language and let’s be honest it sometimes just doesn’t get read.”
Maronick said a mistake was also responsible for some of the other documents Meister dug up earlier this year, showing that Belinda Conaway claimed annual homestead tax credits on the Randallstown property – credits that can only be legally claimed on a primary residence.
“We have said that. As far as any tax benefits she got and shouldn’t have, she will pay them,” Maronick said. “My client will obviously return any money she is not supposed to have received… She is not looking to get … special favors.”
The records show Conaway got a $708 homestead property tax credit last year for the Randallstown place, which she and her husband purchased in 1997. Asked what Conaway would have to pay in total to rectify any error, Maronick said, “whatever it’s determined she owes, she will pay.”
But why sue Meister if all these documents are correct?
“Because he wrote that she does not reside in Baltimore – that she should resign because she does not live in Baltimore – and that’s just patently false,” Maronick said.
He said Conaway and her children live at the Liberty Heights Ave. house. Since March when Meister’s blog posts ran in the Baltimore Examiner, which is also named in the suit, reporters have been asking Conaway if she really lives in the city, and she has challenged them to stake out the house and see her come out every morning to take her children to school.
Baltimore Sun columnist Marta Mossberg raised questions about Conaway’s story by looking at waterbills for the Liberty Heights Ave. house, which she said showed water usage nowhere close to what it should be for a house with six people.
Baltimore City Paper used the Conaway case as an opportunity to review the residency questions still simmering about several other city council members, including Rochelle “Rikki” Spector who has acknowleged for years that she “spends a lot of time” with a longtime companion at his Harbor View condo, well outside of her district.
The language about residency requirement has been squishy ever since the 1990s when State Sen. Clarence W. Blount got the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to reverse an opinion when his residency was questioned.
“The requirement is that one must be domiciled in the district, and domicile is not synonymous with primary place of abode,” Judge John C. Eldridge wrote in his opinion.
The Brew asked Conaway back in March who lived at the Randallstown house and she said: “I don’t have to comment on that. I just have to tell you whether I live in Baltimore city and the answer is, ‘I do.’ ”
More recently, Maronick has answered the question. He has said that Conway’s husband Milton Washington is living at the Randallstown house with Conaway’s mother. Is that correct, The Brew asked him today: he lives with his mother-in-law!?
“Well, he splits his time between the two houses,” Maronick said. “He’s not doing well, he’s been recovering from some injuries.” Maronick declined to elaborate.
Meister says “a major local law firm” has agreed to represent him and he plans to file a motion dismiss Conaway’s suit because it “inhibits free speech.”
Meister, whose Reservoir Hill home is in Conaway’s 7th District territory, has been blogging for The Examiner and for The Baltimore Sun’s community blog platform “Charm City Current” since his unsuccessful run for city council in 2007.
So does he foresee another run for council?
The question prompted a sigh. “No, I will not be running for city council,” he said, stressing that he wants to continue to focus on “new media.” But he is planning a “$21 million 4th of July party,” according to his Facebook page. And he hastened to add that he wants to stay involved in the political scene.
“I do love politics,” he said, with a twinkle. “Doesn’t everybody?”