State Deadline for Local Government Ethics Changes Approaching

An August 5 Gazette.net article discusses local government efforts to comply with 2010 State legislation that requires local financial disclosure and conflict of interest requirements to be at least as stringent as State requirements.  The legislation also requires local boards of education to adopt financial disclosure and conflict of interest requirements for their members.  Counties and municipalities already have disclosure and conflict provisions and must amend their current regulations.  In general, school boards do not have any existing requirements and will have to adopt entirely new regulations. 

County leaders, along with municipalities and school board members from around the state, have until Oct. 1 to submit a draft of their new ethics regulations to the State Ethics Commission for approval.

The task is not easy, because the new regulations must match the state ethics laws that govern the senators and delegates that make up the Maryland General Assembly, according to Les Knapp Jr., associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, a state organization that lobbies on behalf of counties.  …

Robert Hahn, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the standards, said, “The basis is that everyone has essentially the same rules to follow.”

To help county leaders better understand the changes, MACo is planning a workshop Aug. 17 during its summer conference in Ocean City, said Executive Director Michael Sanderson. Attorneys from the State Ethics Commission will be present to discuss the new requirements.

The article also explains the two different “models” a county can consider when updating their ethics regulations and highlights some of the new requirements from a Frederick County perspective.

 The state is requiring that counties revise their ethics and also lobbying provisions based on one of two models, said Linda Thall, Frederick County’s senior assistant attorney. “Model A” is designed for counties with a larger population, and “Model B” is designed for smaller jurisdictions. Frederick County commissioners decided in June to consider Model B.  …

Under Model B, county employees, not just commissioners, are prohibited from soliciting a gift from a lobbyist or someone that has a financial interest in a county matter. Gifts of meals and beverages must now be consumed by the commissioner in the presence of the donor. Commissioners can no longer accept tickets or free admission to professional or college sporting events.

Commissioners and candidates for county commissioner must disclose all property they own, not just in Frederick County. All interests in corporations and partnerships must be disclosed, not just those that do business with the county.

Gifts of more than $20 and a series of gifts totaling $100 or more from an individual doing business with the county must be disclosed, and the commissioner and candidate for commissioner must divulge the employment of their immediate family members, which includes spouse and children.

And a law that now forces county employees to wait one year before taking a job with a private company and doing work on a “specific matter” that person did as a county employee, will change to make that restriction permanent.

UPDATE:  An August 11 Carroll County Times article discusses how Carroll County and its board of education are handling the requirements.

 County Attorney Tim Burke and Ethics Commission Chairman Dale Piper have been developing changes to the county’s code.  …

One of the changes that will be made relates to filing complaints against Carroll employees or officials. Complaints must be done in writing and under oath and they can no longer be done in a letter or in an email, Burke said.

Another big change is the county’s lobbying code section, Burke said. The state is now requiring more detailed information from lobbyists, including filing out more extensive registration forms as well as providing individual activity forms and special gift forms.  …

Burke said he’s confident that the changes will be completed and submitted to the state ethics commission before the deadline.

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