New Ethics Laws: Online Resources and Frequently Asked Questions

Many county officials and others both in and outside the county community have raised questions about new state standards governing local ethics laws. MACo has tried to assemble some quick sources to help answer questions about the new process.

The State Ethics Commission has set up a web page specifically to provide help for local governments amidst this transition or its implementation, and much of this summary is derived from that site.

The summary atop the Commission site sums up the relationship between the State and local laws:

There were significant changes mandated to county and municipal ethics laws and county boards of education ethics regulations by legislation (SB315 – Chapter 277 of the Acts of 2010) enacted during the 2010 General Assembly session. The changes focus on elected local officials and members of school boards and require local ethics laws and school board regulations to have conflict of interest standards and financial disclosure requirements at least equivalent to those required for State officials and public officials. The law became effective October 1, 2010 and will require the counties and municipalities to certify that their laws are in compliance by October 1, 2011.

Click here to see information on the 2010 legislation

This memo to local governments (from May 2011) is probably the best consolidated source for information on the changes. It includes a substantial “frequently asked questions” section specifically tailored to issues facing local governments.

One issue being raised by many counties has been the depth of the reporting required of county appointees to various boards and commissions. From the memo (on page 4), this segment details additional county flexibility in creating standards for those employees different than those required for elected officials. From the memo:

A county or municipal government now must include the following in its ethics ordinances to be approved by the State Ethics Commission:
1. Conflict of interest standards and financial disclosure requirements FOR LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS that are at least equivalent to the State provisions in Subtitle 5 and 6 of Title 15 of the State Government Article and that meet the requirements of the State Ethics Commission regulations.

2. Conflict of interest standards and financial disclosure requirements FOR COUNTY OR MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES AND APPOINTEES BY THE COUNTY OR MUNICIPALITY TO VARIOUS COMMITTEES, TASK FORCES, ETC. that are similar for officials and employees of the State and that meet the requirements specified in the State Ethics Commission’s updated regulations.

The different standards of “equivalent” (for elected officials) and “similar” for employees and appointees represents a different standard that some counties have used to seek reasonable accommodations for appointees for various boards and commissions.

Similar questions have been raised regarding members of County Boards of Education — the Commission has released a summary memo directed to those matters specifically, as well. Click here to load the memorandum dealing with School Boards and employees.

Further detail is also available in the contents of the COMAR regulations, also available online here.

Contacts for further questions on these issues at the State Ethics Commission include:

Jennifer K. Allgair, General Counsel
Deadra W. Daly, Assistant General Counsel
State Ethics Commission
45 Calvert Street, 3rd Floor
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
410-260-7770
1-877-699-6085
410-260-7747 FAX
http://ethics.gov.state.md.us

For even more information — attend the MACo Winter Conference. We are offering a session at 1pm on January 5th on this topic:

“Pitfalls & Pillars of Ethics Compliance”

Recent legislation required local government and boards of education to adopt financial disclosure and conflict of interest reporting requirements that are equal to or stricter than the State’s requirements. While most counties have updated their ordinances, many county elected officials are still learning about and trying to understand the changes. Panelists will provide a brief overview of the new State law, discuss its benefits and drawbacks, and highlight potential situations and “pitfalls” where county elected officials could unintentionally violate the new rules.

If you haven’t registered for the conference yet, visit MACo’s online portal to do so today.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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