New Ethics Bills Proposed By County Executive

They’re expected to go before the County Council for consideration.

Frederick, Md (KM)  Saying Frederick County has done a lot to strengthen its ethics law but still more needs to be done, County Executive Jan Gardner has proposed two new ethics bills.

During her public information briefing on Thursday, Gardner previewed legislation that would codify the process for selecting members of the Ethics Commission. Presently, an independent panel reviews all applicants. “No elected officials–myself included–see the names of the applicants. An independent nominating committee is appointed through the League of Women Voters and they vet all of these applicants and they make a recommendation to me, and then I send that to the Council,” she says.

This bill Gardner is proposing would put that practice into law. That’s something Council President Bud Otis has been championing. “I think it’s very critical and very, very important for the people who serve on the Ethics Commission be selected independently,” Otis, who was at the briefing, said. “It shouldn’t be done by the County Executive–as much as I would trust your judgment–nor by me or the Council.”

Another bill would prohibit rezoning applications six months before a general election, and three-months after the election. Gardner says this would eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest. “There were almost twice as many applications in the months leading up to the 2014 election than there had been the year before. In fact, there were nearly as many applications during the final six months of that year prior to the election then there were in all of 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined,” says Gardner.

She pointed to one example where an application requesting a rezoning of 350 acres was processed during the three-week period between the 2014 election and the day the County Executive and the County Council were sworn in to office. “So I am not saying that these applications were unethical. I’m not saying they didn’t follow the processes that they were supposed to follow. But the timing does leave a perception there was conflict of interest that was possible,” said Gardner.

At her public information briefing, Gardner talked about ethics legislation which is part of the County’s Legislative Package. The measure broaden the state ethics law to Planning Commission members who are running for the County Council or County Executive. They would have disclose ex parte communications during the pendency of a land use application, and it would prohibit the acceptance of campaign contributions during that time period. Gardner said she hopes to see this bill introduced in the General Assembly over the next few days.

The local bills will be introduced to the County Council at a future date.


By Kevin McManus