Board Acts to Revise Ethics Code
Prince Frederick, MD - 3/14/2012
By Marty Madden
The Calvert County Commissioners voted on several motions after conducting a second public hearing on proposed changes to the Calvert County Code of Ethics.
Concerns about proposed amendments submitted by members of the Calvert County Ethics Commission prompted a delay in moving the revised measure along. Those concerns were voiced by some county commissioners and county government staff.
The proposals in question were possibly amending the code to include a provision granting the ethics commission the authority to issue a summons to potential witnesses, supervision of “qualified relatives in the county government chain of command and whether to provide the ethics commission with the disposition of a recommendation for discipline after the panel finds a code violation.
Commissioner Susan Shaw [R] and Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R] had previously stated they were opposed to granting the local ethics commission subpoena power.
“I’m solidly against that,” said Clark. “It’s not a power to be given to an advisory board.”
“There’s no need for summons power for county employees,” said Shaw, who explained since government workers are subject to the ethics code they must respond to the panel’s summons during an investigation.
Commissioner Pat Nutter [R] asked Associate County Attorney Pamela R. Lucas to explain the difference between a subpoena and summons. Lucas indicated a subpoena had punitive consequences if it was ignored by the recipient. “You can be held in contempt,” she said.
“I will probably support the summons,” said Nutter.
Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R] stated he favored granting summons power to the ethics panel. Slaughenhoupt indicated he did not believe average citizens would be issued summons “There’s a perception we [county commissioners] are pro-business,” he said. “We’re talking about some deep-pocket developers [being summoned by the ethics commission].”
Shaw took issue with Slaughenhoupt’s point, stating a situation where a developer tried to bribe a county government official would be “a legal, not an ethical issue.”
During the public comment portion of the hearing, local ethics commission member Ron Nahas of Huntingtown pointed out the two other Southern Maryland Counties have subpoena or summons power for the commission in their ethics codes.
When it came time to vote on the summons component, Shaw and Clark found an ally in Commissioner Steven R. Weems [R], who voted to kill the recommendation while Nutter and Slaughenhoupt voted opposed.
The vote was also split on the proposed disclosure of disciplinary action.
“I don’t believe there’s any reason for county government to go back to the commission with personnel information,” said Clark.
Slaughenhoupt, who served briefly on the ethics commission, opined that members of the panel simply wanted to gauge their effectiveness by requesting a summary of actions taken.
“We do take your recommendations very seriously,” Shaw told the ethics commission members attending the hearing. “But it’s county employees. There’s already a tremendous amount of scrutiny. There comes a point when it becomes burdensome.”
The commissioners were more agreeable on amending the code regarding the supervision of qualified relatives in the chain of command. The board decided the provisions should become effective at the division chief level and that employees who started working for Calvert County Government prior to Oct. 1, 1989 be “grandfatherered” and no subject to the stipulation.
“Nepotism is currently not happening in Calvert County Government,” Shaw declared. “I do not want the public to have the impression that department heads are hiring their children to work for them.”
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org