Councilman Oliver's State Job Raises Questions
Baltimore County Charter prohibits council members from working for state government. Councilman Ken Oliver says the law doesn't apply to him because he's a contract employee.
For the past nine months Baltimore County Councilman Ken Oliver has held a paid, full-time contract position with a state government agency, a job that appears to run afoul of a County Charter rule prohibiting such employment.
Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, was hired as a finance specialist by the state Department of Business and Economic Development in February, just two months into his third four-year term on the council.
The County Charter prohibits county council members from working for state agencies during their terms in office. “No person shall qualify or serve as a member of the county council while he holds any other office or employment for profit of or under the state or county,” the charter states.
Oliver, in a phone interview, said his $62,000 state job does not violate the charter governing his position.
"I'm a contract employee," said Oliver, who also receives a $54,000 salary as a councilman. "I am not a full-time employee with DBED."
Oliver added said that he is employed by an accounting firm, not by the department. He then declined to name the accounting firm.
"I don't have to disclose that," he said.
Oliver said he did not ask the county attorney or county ethics commission for an opinion on whether the job violated the charter.
"I didn't ask for one because I don't work for (the state)," Oliver said.
"I'm a contract employee," he said. "When I'm finished here, they'll send me somewhere else."
An online directory for the state’s economic development department lists Oliver as an employee complete with an agency email address.
Karen Glenn Hood, a department spokeswoman, confirmed that Oliver is a contract employee. The agency pays him directly, Hood said, and not through a third party contractor. She said she knew nothing about an accounting firm.
Under the terms of his deal, Oliver's contract can be renewed annually in February on the date of his hire. As a contract employee, he does not receive state benefits.
At least one former councilman who formerly worked for the state said such a contractual arrangement would lead him to seek an opinion from the county attorney or ethics commission.
Wayne Skinner, a Republican former councilman from Towson, declined to comment on the specifics of Oliver’s case but said in general that a contract between a state agency and a councilman raises questions.
“It’s an excellent question but one I don’t know the answer to,” Skinner said, calling the matter a “gray area.”
Skinner and Democratic former Councilman Vince Gardina both held state jobs while on the council despite the fact that the law had been on the books since 1956. A charter review performed by the county attorney’s office before the 2006 election uncovered the language.
Skinner, who attempted to be reelected to the council in 2006, said he was told of the law at that time and understood he would have to give up his job with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation if he won.
Gardina, who was fired from his job in 2003 by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, defeated Skinner that year.
Skinner said taking a contractual position with the state while serving on the council would give him pause.
“I probably would check that out before I accepted it,” Skinner said. “It certainly raises a red flag. I’d have to get (a legal) opinion from someone.”
Voters rejected the proposed charter amendment during the 2008 election, leaving the prohibition in place.
In 2009, Oliver pleaded guilty to one count of misappropriation of campaign funds and one count of failure to support reimbursement for expenses by a receipt. He was given a sentence of probation before judgment that included requirements that he pay a $2,500 fine and complete 50 hours of community service with a campaign finance expert.