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NewsMarylandSun Investigates

New online system for city ethics forms requires in-person sign-up

Laws and LegislationEthicsGovernmentElectionsLocal Government

Want to see what gifts Baltimore's elected officials and government workers have received? You can check out the details online, but you first have to make a stop at City Hall to sign up.

The city's Ethics Board says it is not allowed to make the process totally digital because of a requirement, based on a state law, that individuals show up once in person, show identification and fill out a contact form.

The city is among the first local governments to provide online access to the records, which also include disclosure of certain loans, family income sources and business relationships. There is no fee to register.

"We have about 30 viewers registered right now, but the majority of them seem to be city employees involved with the disclosure process rather than outside viewers," said Thaddeus Watulak, Baltimore's deputy ethics director. "We've had some inquiries from the public, and some individual citizens have registered or indicated that they plan to register."

The city's rule concerning proof of identity is based on the State Ethics Commission's interpretation of Maryland law. The government worker or elected officials whose records are reviewed can also request to be notified when an individual examines their filing.

Michael W. Lord, director of the State Ethics Commission, said the law requires that local governments have the same access rules as the state. And the state commission says names and contact information must be recorded in person.

To view state filings, individuals must go to the commission's office in Annapolis and use a computer terminal to examine the documents.

Caron A. Brace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor would support looking for ways to make the records more accessible.

"It's worth looking into," Brace said. "She understands how important it is for us to make transparency convenient."

Yvonne Wenger

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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