Baltimore County Council Considers 4 Transparency Bills

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-06-14) reported that the Baltimore County Council is currently considering four pieces of legislation addressing transparency and open government. According to the article, the legislation includes:

  1. requiring the Council to hold evening meetings (sponsored by Council Member Wade Kach);
  2. requiring one additional public hearing on the county’s annual budget (sponsored by Council Member Wade Kach);
  3. requiring ethics training for certain county officials (sponsored by Council Member Vicki Almond); and
  4. prohibiting campaign contributions during the county’s rezoning process (sponsored by Council Member Vicki Almond).

From the article:

Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group, lauded the efforts.

“We’re glad to see the county taking ethical concerns in the community seriously and looking to address them,” said Damon Effingham, the group’s legal and policy director. …

One of Kach’s bills would put an end to the council practice of discussing bills and taking public testimony during weekday afternoon work sessions. County residents rarely attend those sessions, and often no one from the public testifies on the bills.

Kach wants those work sessions to be held at 6 p.m. or later, like the council’s voting sessions on Monday nights in Towson.

He has proposed a requirement that the county executive hold at least two public meetings before introducing the budget.

Currently, only the council holds a public hearing on the budget. This year, no one testified at that hearing.

“One of the reasons that the [Baltimore County] council hearing may have received little engagement in the past could be because, at that point, many priorities of the budget are already basically decided on,” Effingham said.

The article also discussed Almond’s rezoning and training bills:

Rezoning, one of the major powers held by council members in Baltimore County, is an area of intense lobbying and community input. Council members already have an unofficial agreement against accepting campaign donations during the yearlong process. Almond’s bill would turn that into a requirement. …

“With the zoning issues, we deal so much with the developers and the attorneys. There’s a perception that if we take money from somebody that we’ll do what they want us to do,” said Almond, of Reisterstown. “It’s totally not true. This bill helps to say we’re not doing anything wrong.” …

Almond’s other bill would require annual training in ethics laws for county elected officials, top aides, top county officials, members of certain boards and commissions and registered lobbyists. The course would be provided by the county’s Ethics Commission.

Almond said county officials get only cursory training in ethics, or pick up their ethics knowledge on the fly.

The article noted that the bills will be discussed during a June 27 work session and possibly voted on July 3.