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By Gadi Dechter | Posted 9/14/2005

Sun architecture critic Edward Gunts has made significant real-estate investments in two Baltimore neighborhoods he regularly covers

According to the most recently available city and state property-tax records, Gunts currently owns seven residential properties in Mount Vernon and one in Bolton Hill. In the past 18 months he has sold eight additional residential properties in Bolton Hill for more than $2 million—$1.1 million above their purchase price.

Since joining The Sun in 1984, Gunts has written extensively about both neighborhoods, often praising their architecture.

In December 2001, Gunts wrote a story about a Bolton Hill community group’s plans to install commemorative plaques on the houses of famous former residents, such as President Woodrow Wilson and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the journalist’s own Bolton Hill properties, 213 W. Lanvale St., which Gunts bought in 1996 for $150,000 and sold last October for $311,925, received one of the plaques.

In May, Gunts wrote about Mount Vernon Place, the four public squares surrounding the Washington Monument. In the article, titled “A walk in Mount Vernon Place; It’s among the nation’s loveliest urban spaces,” Gunts describes the location as “still considered by many to be the cultural heart of the city.” Public records indicate that at the time the article was published Gunts owned (and still owns) six properties on Mount Vernon Place: a 5,655-square-foot apartment building and five other condo units.

All of the currently owned Mount Vernon properties were purchased since 2000. Gunts also bought a house in April in the Evergreen neighborhood of North Baltimore.

“I recently became aware of Ed’s investment properties,” says Sun editor Tim Franklin in an e-mailed statement. “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, we told him not to write about areas in which he is actively investing. Our ethics policy, which was recently put in place, is designed to assure readers that we go out of our way to avoid conflicts and any activity that might appear to compromise our integrity.”

It would be difficult to write about architecture in Baltimore without covering the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, both of which are rich in historically significant architecture and real-estate news. (Like most Sun arts and entertainment critics, Gunts also regularly files news stories about his beat.)

“I don’t feel comfortable at all talking about something that is really very private,” Gunts says. “What is on the tax records is certainly public information, but beyond that it’s very hard for me to say what the paper’s policy is. I would refer you to the editors.”

Franklin, who joined The Sun in January 2004, declines to specify when or how he became aware of Gunts’ real-estate holdings, or whether Gunts’ recent selling spree in Bolton Hill was related to the paper’s knowledge of the investments.

Gunts’ previous managers reacted with surprise to news of the highly regarded critic’s personal stake in his professional subject matter. “It’s all news to me,” says Franklin’s predecessor, William K. Marimow, now the managing editor of National Public Radio.

Former deputy managing editor Steve Proctor, who oversaw the Sun’s features department from 2000 to 2003, says it was his understanding that Gunts only owned one building in Bolton Hill, in which he both lived and rented out several units.

Likewise, former Sun managing editor Tony Barbieri says: “I may have known that [Gunts] owned one rental property. But I did not know that he had what you call significant real-estate properties.”

Barbieri, who retired from the paper last year, describes himself as “saddened” by the news. “[Gunts is] damn good. He’s a great architecture critic and a phenomenal reporter and a huge asset to that paper. I would have thought that he would have realized [the investments] were a problem.”

The Sun’s ethics code instructs newsroom staff to “make certain that no outside personal, ideological or financial interests conflict with their professional performance of duties or raise doubts about the Sun’s integrity, credibility and impartiality. Additionally, staff members should avoid activity that could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Marimow says he believes investing in city properties is “inconsistent and irreconcilable” with Gunts’ beat.“I haven’t spoken to him, so I don’t understand his side of the story,” Marimow says. “But it would seem to me as someone covering this subject, if you’re contemplating buying properties in a neighborhood you’re frequently writing about, you’ve got an obligation to tell the editor. It’s a major problem.”

If Gunts’ investments had come to his attention while managing editor, Barbieri says, “I would have taken [Gunts] off the beat and not given him the option of dumping the properties.”

Franklin declined to elaborate about the paper’s response to the critic’s investments, saying only that “we’re still in discussions with Ed about this issue as we go forward.”

A newsroom source familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, says: “There is an understanding that Ed is willing to dispose of his properties and that he clearly wants to keep being the Sun’s architecture critic. This is someone who cares about the city and cares about city architecture. He’s not a business writer, he’s not a real-estate writer, and he’s not giving investment advice to anyone. If you know Ed, you know this is a mistake of naiveté, not avarice.”

(Disclosure: Media Circus writer Gadi Dechter lives in Bolton Hill.)

Radio Refugee

The music director and morning host of a New Orleans public radio station has temporarily joined the staff of WTMD (89.7 FM) in Towson.

“I’m doing anything they ask me to,” says James Arey, who is staying with family in Silver Spring. “But primarily I’m focused on raising money for this station and for Katrina relief.”

Arey says he hopes to be able to return to his flooded New Orleans home and to WWNO, the classical-music station affiliated with the University of New Orleans, sometime around Christmas. WWNO is currently off the air.

WTMD general manager Stephen Yasko says the alternative-music station “felt compelled to help in our own way by making sure that folks in public radio are given a home wherever they land.”

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