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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.”

Oliver, Gardina and Councilman John Olszewski Sr., all Democrats, sought to change the County Charter after Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley defeated Ehrlich in 2006.

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.

LalainMaryland October 20, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Idiot they have families to feed. One gave up a good job in the Federal Government!
Bill October 20, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Mr. Homan received a $40,000 + raise the year he changed the pensions and forced new employees in the county to work for 35 years to collect less money upon retirement. Jim Smith asked council for the raise and they approved it. That's how Fred gets $190,000 a year and will collect a huge monthly pension if he ever retires. And county Council members will receive their full salary for pensions when they retire. Not a percentage of their salary as full time employees do. And to boot, They only work part time as council members. Just Sayin
Buzz Beeler October 20, 2011 at 09:35 PM
This will be second time the council faces an ethics issue. Jim Smith faced scrutiny in his relationship with developers and campaign donations. Of course nothing happened, business as usual. The council should hold an inquiry into this issue. This is not the first time Mr. Oliver had issues with ethics. Anything less will erode the confidence in the council to deal with these ethical lapses.
Mike Pierce October 21, 2011 at 12:16 AM
The saddest part of this is the statement that "A charter review performed by the county attorney’s office before the 2006 election uncovered the language." when it's been in the Charter since 1956. The Charter isn't that long and complicated that everyone in government wouldn't already know what it said. You mean for 50 years no one knew it said that? Scary!
reader October 21, 2011 at 01:14 AM
I am always surprised that these clowns in office never seem to see a conflict of interest. I guess since it doen't conflict with their interests its okay. These people need term limits, just like the rest of them do. Also, it is about time that they go on 403b plans instead of defined pensions. That slimy Gaudino will be collected a load of a pension for years. I'm glad Baltimore County residents enjoy being an ATM machine for these losers.
Buzz Beeler October 21, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Mike, you sound very astute on this issue, what actions do you think the council should pursue in dealing with Mr. Oliver. The devil are in the details and by his own words he alludes to his employer, i.e. the state with the following quote: "I'm a contract employee," he said. "When I'm finished here, they'll send me somewhere else.". My question is who is the "they" Mr. Oliver is referring to. In this case it would have to be the state. I did omit one final nail, excuse me, detail in the -- on line directory.
Skip727 October 21, 2011 at 10:33 AM
Meg, Keep going. I like where this is leading.
Mark W. October 21, 2011 at 04:13 PM
I have no problem with elected officials receiving a salary. Most of them work hard and provide great constituent service, my Councilwoman actually returns phone calls personally and has helped my community resolve many of it's problems. If you expect the Council to go without a salary do you also expect the highway workers to go without pay, or the teachers? Technically they are all providing public service.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:20 PM
I would say, if there is a problem, the state should have picked up on it. Otherwise all is fine. The councilman is doing his county job just fine, he keeps getting elected.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:21 PM
There but for the grace of god, go we.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:23 PM
All I see here is envy, no more no less.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:28 PM
All one needs to do for research is go to the elected officials voting record. Nothing much matters after doing that. You like his votes, you vote for him unless there is some other motive involved.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:31 PM
You are paying for a job well done. And I am all for anyone making a good salary, We get better results that way. Whether one likes those results or not is something else.
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:34 PM
You evidently are leaving out some pertinent details about the councils retirement package. Full disclosure please, Mr Bill
Graham October 21, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Buzz, you are an excellent reporter but shouldn`t the state be the overseer on matters such as this. The councilman applied for a job and received it. Seriouly, what is wrong with that?
mcgillicuddy October 21, 2011 at 07:32 PM
I would think both the county and state should have picked up on it. But the good old boys code doesn't allow for squealing on each other.And the fact that "he keeps getting elected" does not necessarily mean he "is doing his county job just fine".
Bryan P. Sears October 21, 2011 at 10:42 PM
Bill: Actually, council members receive a percentage of their salaries as their pension. prior to 2010, council members received the equivalent of 20% per four year term. Vince Gardina retired in 2010 after five terms and received 100 percent of his salary. That changed with the five incoming councilmembers who are capped at 60 percent of their salary. They max out after three terms.
mcgillicuddy October 21, 2011 at 11:23 PM
We may as well stop wasting our breath since whoever built the county charter didn't provide for provisions to enforce the subject law. Even the county lawyers don't know. See http://towson.patch.com/articles/oliver-job-council-legal-issues. With that situation most people would do the same as Oliver is doing... grab everything he can while he has the chance.
LalainMaryland October 21, 2011 at 11:30 PM
What is wrong is that he flagrantly ignored the rules that bind him. Your comment reminds me what is wrong with society: let's forgo personal responsibility and let someone else be in charge of our morality. I am ashamed of him and you, Graham.
Mike October 22, 2011 at 03:00 AM
Graham, You must be kidding. It is not the state's job to follow, or know the Baltimore County Charter/law. Mr. Oliver on the other hand, being a Baltimore Co. Councilman, even a poor one, is responsible to follow the LAW, which he obviously have problems with. I don't want a criminal representing me that's why I voted for Julian Jones.
Buzz Beeler October 22, 2011 at 03:56 AM
Graham, the county attorney could order Oliver to step down in the fact that he violated the County Charter. Oliver's recourse would be to request an administrative hearing. It is a question of ethics and the law. Cops are required to file secondary employment forms and failing to do so can result in departmental charges and dismissal. Smith faced a Charter issue and it was whitewashed. The question I have is where is Kamenetz on this issue? The Charter is very clear as Bryan pointed out on this conflict. I have said this many times in the past over my perception that the county executive is devoid of leadership. He proliferates the good ole boys image by making several appointments that the Sun criticized, and that doesn't happen too often. If Oliver is allowed to skirt the law, for the second time, it can lead to an erosion in the integrity of not only his position, but that of the council in general. Corruption can taken on many forms in politics. This violation must be adjudicated as a mater of law and ethics, which is vital in one holding elected office.
Buzz Beeler October 22, 2011 at 04:07 AM
Graham, you are right about one thing, the voting issue. Even if there is action taken, I believe he could run again as his last election proved.
Graham October 22, 2011 at 05:25 AM
No Mike I am not kidding. The seems to be abreast of most things that go on in this state, they should know not to hire any county official that applies for a job whether or not the one that applies is culpable or not. That is my point. If I had a criminal record and applied for a position while being honest on the application, then it is the states responsibility to catch it. Simple. it seems to me.
Graham October 22, 2011 at 05:39 AM
Buzz, I agree with the basis of what you are saying but evidently it has not been decided if he broke the law or not. If it is a law, it obviously has no teeth. I really do think as I had said earlier, the state is culpable unless he did not let them know that he is a county employee. There has been a lot of disparaging accusations being thrown around that I am sure that those making them have not a personal clue. I do not find the Patch reporters are miss characterizing anything at all. You are asking the questions which deserve an answer. Buzz, just read some of those mean spirited statements. Whatever happened to innocent before being proved guilty?
DHAMMER October 22, 2011 at 12:02 PM
After reading the charges he had against him in 09 this only shows how the Maryland Democratic Party Politicians operate.Should we expect anything else? Look at Michael Bush in Annapolis is he any different? There is nothing more obvious then the Public getting a finger stuck in their eye by these double dipping Politicians who make Laws against us but not themselves.
Buzz Beeler October 22, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Graham, you are correct that under the Constitution one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, however there is another factor that plays a role in this and that is the court of that public perception. Again I will refer to the police department to illustrate the situation. Case in point, if an officer is involved in say in a domestic violence issue as illustrated by a recent Patch article, that officer is suspended with or without pay depending on the allegations. This action is taken to preserve the safety of the general public and uphold the integrity of the system. This process is also found in a situation depending on the severity of the charges, in our criminal court system. The suspect is taken before a commissioner for a bail hearing prior to the trial in order to review many factors in whether to assess a bond amount, or in certain cases the denial of that bail.
Buzz Beeler October 22, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Graham, there is one point that I have to take issue with you in your comments regarding this quote: "... then it is the states responsibility to catch it. Simple. it seems to me.". There is some truth in your comments that the state should be aware of these potential conflicts. There is also culpability on the part of the applicant if they are aware, or should be aware of the laws they are being paid to interpret. Yes there are some tough comments on this matter but as the saying goes -- "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." That is the reality of life.
Dundalkwatchdog October 22, 2011 at 09:32 PM
Graham, your overlooking the obvious. He broke the county charter, not the states, therefor it is a county issue. Secondly, he is an adult, don't blame the state, he knew what he was doing and was hoping he wouldn't get caught
mcgillicuddy October 22, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Spot on!
Buzz Beeler October 23, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Mack, there isn't much that slips by the Dundalkwatchdog. He's got it covered.

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