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At first meeting, CA Board elects Avery, changes ethics code

By Amanda Yeager, ayeager@tribune.com

9:05 AM EDT, May 9, 2014

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Reg Avery will be allowed to serve on the Columbia Association’s Board of Directors at least until November, CA board members decided Thursday night.

In its first meeting after the village elections were held on April 26, CA’s new board also voted to amend language in the association’s code of ethics that could have prohibited Avery from serving.

Avery, who represents Oakland Mills and is also running as a Republican for County Council District 2, had been challenged by some board members who said his council candidacy violated the board’s code of ethics.

The clause they pointed to read: “A member of the Board, upon declaring candidacy for election to public office, shall resign from the Board.”

But at the CA Board of Directors’ annual meeting May 8, all but two board members voted to elect Avery, who ran unopposed for the seat and garnered about 420 votes from village residents. 

Dorsey’s Search representative Tom O’Connor and Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind abstained from the vote.

The discussion then turned to the code of ethics, which some board members said was unfairly restrictive, citing politicians who are allowed to stay in their seats while running for another office.

Some said they didn’t anticipate Avery, or any board member, would face any serious conflicts of interest while serving on the board and running as a council candidate.

“Elected officials have to file donation statements, so we will all know… that they accepted political contributions and from whom,” Harper’s Choice representative Alan Klein said.

But O’Connor argued that the organization’s status as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which is not allowed to “play a significant role in any political campaigns,” according to CA legal counsel Sheri Fanaroff, could be jeopardized by a loosening of the ethical rules to allow political candidates to serve on the board.

The ban on candidates, O’Connor said, was there “to avoid any appearance that we are doing anything in a political way.”

Board members ultimately decided to approve an amendment to the code of ethics proposed by board member Russ Swatek, who represents Long Reach.

The new language requires a board member to resign from both the board and the Columbia Council only when they are “sworn into partisan public office.”

The specification that the public office must be partisan was inserted to allow members to serve in non-partisan offices, such as on the Board of Education.

Eight of the 10 board members voted to approve the change in the ethics code. O’Connor and Schwind were opposed.

Avery said he was “elated” with the CA board’s decision. He thanked about a half dozen Oakland Mills residents for coming to speak in favor of his election to the board. Another half dozen came in support but did not speak.

“My village stood up for me and came out in droves to say how much they trusted me, how much they believed in me,” Avery said after the meeting.

He called the change to the code of ethics “a very rational and wise move.

“When you look at the various entities of our nation and government, no one has that policy,” he said of the old ethics ban against political candidates. “I understand there was a reason for it at one point in time, but that time has passed, and this amendment makes sense.

“My only concern for the whole process was that I wasn’t really allowed to say anything,” he added, saying any allegations that he might act unethically flew in the face of his military career and his commitment to live “by my honor and my word.”

As a candidate, he said, “I won’t have any decision-making influence” on the County Council.

Community members who testified on the code of ethics were mostly in favor of the change.

Barbara Russell, an Oakland Mills resident and former board member from the village, said that CA campaigns taking on some traits of a political race was “nothing new,” with candidates using signs and mailers, and local politicians occasionally intervening in the election.

“The allegation that Reg will have more power because he’s running for CA council – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen or anything similar to that happen, and I think it’s a non-issue,” she said.

“Reg is going to be one of 10 people,” said Oakland Mills resident Paul Verchinski. “To think that he’s going to influence the other nine people to do what he wants to do is crazy.”

But Bill Woodcock, another Oakland Mills resident and a former village board member, said he thought a change to the ethics rule could be a “big problem, and the problem is not what’s in people’s heads or hearts.

“We don’t know of a future situation,” Woodcock said. “It’s a broader issue… of outside influence on CA elections.”

Avery, who is running as a Republican in Council District 2, faces a primary June 24 against another Republican candidate, Ralph Colavita. The winner of that election will go on to face District 2 incumbent Calvin Ball, who has represented the district since 2006, in the November general election.

Avery ran for the same council seat in 2010 and was defeated by Ball, by a margin of 67.6 percent to 32.3 percent.

Thursday night, the CA board also voted to elect Owen Brown representative Andrew Stack as chair and Swatek as vice chair for the first six months, with their roles reversing for the second six months of the year.