Maryland Commissioner of Banking, W. H. Holden Gibbs resigned yesterday, one week after he came under fire for his role in lobbying on behalf of legislation sought by the industry he is supposed to regulate impartially.
An official of the Hughes administration accepted the resignation at a meeting called to discuss Gibbs' role in the passage last week of a bill allowing banks to raise their interest rates -- a measure that was the banking lobby's chief goal in Annapolis this year.
Gibbs was appointed in 1978 to the $38,000-a-year post by former acting Gov. Blair Lee III on the strong recommendation of influential bankers who at the time were contributing heavily to Lee's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.
The 48-year-old Gibbs, a former banker, came under scrutiny last week after it was reported that he had approved the long-sought charter of a minority-owned bank only hours after members of the legislature's black caucus had helped ensure passage of the controversial banking bill.
Just three days earlier the bill had been defeated in the House of Delegates by a single vote. Supporters were able to reverse that defeat by turning 10 votes, including that of one black caucus member.
In his letter of resignation, Gibbs reiterated his denial that the charter issuance was in any way connected to the black legislators' support of the bill. But he also stated: "In my zeal to do a good job for the state I failed to take into consideration the timing of some of my actions."
Last week Del. Larry Young, a member of the black caucus from Baltimore, said he learned from other caucus members on March 31 -- the day of the second vote on the bank bill -- that "there was a deal in the wind on a black bank we've been trying to get for six years."
Young said he "got the impression" that getting the charter "would be made easier by voting for" the banking bill. Later in the day, as the vote drew closer, Young said he learned that "the charter already was granted."
After the successful vote, Gibbs -- who had traveled to Annapolis, talked to several black caucus members at their request and watched the voting -- returned to his Baltimore office. There he signed and turned over the charter to officials of the Harbor Bank.
Gibbs acknowledged last week that "the timing [of granting the charter] was lousy," but he said that in a meeting March 10 with bank officials he had committed to make a decision by March 30 on whether to issue the charter. One bank official recalls the same commitment. Gibbs said he made the charter decision "over the weekend" before the March 31 vote in order to live up to that commitment.
Gibbs' boss, Secretary of Licensing and Regulation John J. Corbley, said yesterday that in his inquiry he had failed to find "any affirmative information" on a connection between the charter issuance and the bill's passage.
He said he had been leaning toward replacing Gibbs in the post because the commissioner "had maintained too high a profile with respect to a bill that affects the industry he regulates."
Corbley said that Gibbs had offered to resign from the post last Thursday when questions about his actions first arose, and he praised Gibbs for that decision.
In his letter of resignation, Gibbs said he was leaving the job "in view of recent unfavorable publicity which has been brought upon me, the state banking department of state government." He added, "I do not feel that I in any way injured the public of Maryland, but rather did my best to see they were served."
Gibbs has said that he believed the bank bill was in the public interest because it was designed to open currently closed lines of credit. The bill's new interest rate ceilings also could provide added profits to the state's banks.
The state commissioner wields considerable power over the banking industry, with his job to carefully scrutinize bank practices and the power to grant or deny approval for branches throughout the state.
Gibbs, known as "Jumbo" to his friends in the banking industry, formerly worked for Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. and Union Trust Co., both in Baltimore.
Harbor Bank, the minority-owned institution whose charter Gibbs granted last week, includes among its directors such politically well-connected men as Frank DeFilippo, a former aide to former governor Marvin Mandel, and Joseph Chester Jr., the son of a member of the legislature's black caucus.