June 20, 2011
A Baltimore City Councilwoman who is suing a local blogger for reporting that she “does not reside” in the city signed a document last year certifying that her primary residence was in Baltimore County.
Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who lists her father’s Northwest Baltimore home on city documents as her official residence, signed a mortgage agreement last year indicating that the house she bought in Randallstown in 1997 was her primary residence.
Conaway joined the City Council in 2004.
Contacted for a response on Monday, Conaway said: “You know I can’t talk about that” and referred questions to her lawyer.
Attorney Thomas J. Maronick Jr. said the councilwoman and her husband signed the document “inadvertently.”
“They shouldn’t have signed it,” Maronick said. He said the couple “didn’t look very carefully” at the papers and called the signing an “oversight.”
“It’s not unusual for people at a real estate settlement to sign documents without reading them carefully,” Maronick said. “There was no attempt whatsoever to defraud anyone.”
Conaway filed a $21 million lawsuit against blogger Adam Meister and the Examiner news organization last month after Meister posted copies of Conaway’s property records online and wrote that she “should immediately resign from Baltimore’s City Council since she does not reside in Baltimore.”
In her lawsuit, Conaway claims the posts were libelous, defamatory and intentionally inflicted emotional distress because she “does in fact live in Baltimore City.”
Meister said Monday that a major law firm had agreed to defend him pro bono. He declined to name the firm publicly.
He said he planned to file a motion to dismiss “because the suit inhibits free speech.” He declined to comment further, on the advice of his lawyer.
Conaway is not the only City Council member whose residency has sparked questions.
Councilman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents Northwest Baltimore, says she has lived in her boyfriend’s Inner Harbor condominium for years. She says she maintains a residence in her district.
Councilman William “Pete” Welch lists his campaign office as his official address, but says he actually lives with his mother at another home in his district.
Councilman Warren Branch lists his mother’s address on official records and says he stays there once a week, but spends most of his time with his girlfriend and their three children at a different address in his district.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young lists one East Baltimore home as his official address, but he says he actually lives around the corner. Young owned a home until 2005 in the Harford County neighborhood of Edgewood. He called it a “vacation home.”
Shortly after he became council president last year, Young led reporters on a tour of the home where he spends most of time. He pulled fistfuls of clothing from drawers, saying, “Do you want to see my damn underwear?”
State law grants elected officials wide latitude in declaring an official address.
In 1998, a court ordered hen-state Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount off the ballot after a private detective showed that he lived primarily in Pikesville, not the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood he was elected to represent. But a Court of Special Appeals judge overturned the ruling.
“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 latest documents, posted last week by the website Baltileaks, indicate that Conaway and her husband received an $8,700 line of credit from the Municipal Employee Credit Union of Baltimore on the Randallstown home in January 2010.
The couple signed a statement ‘Under oath and penalties of perjury’ affirming that the Randallstown home “is his/ her / their principal place of residence,” according to the documents, which are posted on a state land records website.
Maronick said that Conaway and her husband, Milton D. Washington, purchased the home in the 9800 block of Southall Road in Randallstown in 1997 and lived there “briefly” with their two children and her mother.
Soon afterward, Maronick said, Conaway moved to her father’s spacious home in the 3200 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in the city, which is closer to her son’s school.
Maronick said Conaway’s mother and Washington live in the Randallstown home.
Baltimore County tax records indicate that Conaway and her husband sought and received a $708 Homestead Tax Credit for the Randallstown home last year.
Maronick said that Conaway would pay back any tax credit that was received improperly.
When a reporter visited the Randallstown home last month, an elderly woman answered the door, shook her head silently and shut the door.
Neighbors reported seeing an elderly woman at the tidy brick home, and occasional visits from relatives.
“I’ve seen an older lady tending to her flowers,” said Laura Blanks, who lives on the other side of the quiet suburban street. “Her roses are beautiful.”
Conaway’s father, Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr., her stepmother, Register of Wills Mary Conaway, and brother Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr. all claim the Liberty Heights home as their official residence.
Conaway’s husband and her 13-year-old son were at the large brick home on Liberty Road across from Hanlon Park when a reporter dropped by last month.
Conaway’s father said that his daughter’s family occupied one wing of the 17-room home.
“This house has two sides to it and they live on one side,” he said.
Conaway urged his grandson, Xavier Washington, to speak to a reporter.
“I live here,” Xavier said. “I just go there sometimes to visit my grandmother.”