Council Passes Amended Ethics Bill
Members claim final version is "significantly more stringent than state law."
The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved an amended version of a comprehensive ethics bill Monday night.
Even though the amendments removed provisions in County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's proposal that were aimed specifically at council members, the council said the bill is still more stringent than what state law requires.
Among those provisions removed are:
- A provision that allows members of the County Council to accept tickets to sporting and cultural events unless the donor has business before the council. The law as passed forbids county employees from accepting such gratuities.
- The council also removed a section of the law prohibiting council members from eating or drinking at events where all seven members were not invited. The language proposed in Kamenetz's bill was similar to that which applies to state legislators.
- Specific definitions of conflicts of interest aimed at County Council members were removed in favor of a section of the bill that applies to all county employees but is less specific. Those proposed changes under Kamenetz's would have set voting and disclosure rules for members of the county council when they may have a conflict of interest. Council members would have been presumed to have a disqualifying interest if they had a direct interest that would benefit from the vote, or from a close economic association with someone who will benefit from the legislation, or from a close economic association with a lobbyist lobbying the bill, or have a loan from someone who will benefit from the bill.
- Unpaid members of county boards and commissions would be allowed to represent their employers in business matters before the county as long as their none of their salary is based on that representation.
Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. said the changes put councilmembers "on the same level playing field as other elected officials."
"The administration put forward some things that were not really needed under state law," said Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat..
Don Mohler, chief of staff to Kamenetz, said the bill as passed was satisfactory even if the executive didn't get everything he proposed.
"It's cliche but we're not going to make perfect the enemy of the good," said Mohler.
Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said the council had some concerns about a requirement that they post their annual financial disclosures online begining next year.
"We ultimately decided that we're going to move forward and that it's something we can all live with," Quirk said.
Baltimore County's ethics policies were first established in 1982. Listed below are key changes contained in the proposed legislation:
- Extends the prohibition of participation in a county matter when the employee's spouse or child has an interest in the outcome to also include the employee's parent or sibling.
- Codifies into County Code a section of the Baltimore County Charter, which prohibits a member of the County Council from being an officer or employee of the state or county, placing the violation of this prohibition under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.
- Prohibits former county employees from ever representing or assisting a person for compensation in a matter in which he or she significantly participated as a county employee.
- Requires that financial disclosure by public officials be annually posted online beginning May 1, 2012.
- Imposes late fees for tardy filing of financial disclosure statements and lobbying registrations or reports that are filed late.
The bill takes effect on January 1. The electronic filing of financial disclosures will apply to only the council and county executive and begin in April 2012 when the officials are next required to file.
In other council news:
- Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. abstained from a vote on a vote to approve a grant to the Back River Restoration Committee. Olszewski is a member of the organization's board.