An executive of the Garfinckel's department stores chain said yesterday a Prince George's County official told him that County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan might support a proposed Garfinckel's warehouse if the company gave $80,000 to a county-endorsed charity.
Albert D. Nemecek, the corporate treasurer of the Garfinckel's chain, said the remark by county economic development chief Paul Gilbert in a telephone conversation in April was phrased as "a direct offer."
If Garfinckel's contributed to the private, nonprofit Washington Ear group, Nemecek said, Hogan was supposed to reconsider endorsing a state-backed, low-interest loan to the company for a new warehouse in Prince George's. Hogan had previously indicated that he opposed the deal. Nemecek said.
Gilbert, Hogan and other country officals insisted yesterday that there was no trade-off implied in Gilbert's statement. "There was never a quid-pro-gus, and anyone says there was in not telling the truth," Hogan said in a statement.
Gilbert and other county officials explained that Gilbert "suggested" the contribution to Nemecek "out of the blue" as a way of improving what for Hogan had been an unacceptable plan for the warehouse by the company. Hogan, Gilbert and Nemecek said that Hogan had no knowledge of the proposed gift until after garfinckel's had already agreed to make it.
After Hogan had publicly announced the contribution by Garfinckel's to Washington Ear, a social service group that received county funds until this year, the company withdrew its offer to make the payment, county officials said.
Garfinckel's has been seeking since last December to win approval for a $4.5 million, low-interest loan for a warehouse and office complex it wants to build in the Washington Industrial Park in Lanham. Such loans are issued under a state program to promote economic development that is desired by local officials.
Hogan opposed the Garfinckel's loan, he said yesterday, because the company planned to build only a warehouse in Prince George's that would bring few jobs and only small tax revenues to the county.
Gilbert said he suggested the charitable contribution after Garfinckel's officials submitted a statement to the county that erroneously over estimated - by $80,000 - the amount of taxes that the county could collect from the proposed development each year.
Other county officials said yesterday that even if Gilbert and Hogan had proposed an economic trade-off or deal with Garfinckel's, it would not have been unusual for the state development loan program.
Last year, for example, the City of Bowie negotiated with the Coles Furniture Co. for a construction loan under the same program, and agreed to endorse the loan only if Coles made a direct payment of up to $100,000 to Bowie, according to Bowie and county officials.
Hogan has been endorsing contributions for the Washington Ear and several other locals nonprofit organizations because he deleted county support for them from this year's budget as a cost-saving measure.