Bill before City Council aims to close 'gaps' in ethics code

Two city watchdog officials are proposing legislation to close "gaps" in Baltimore's ethics code after learning of attempts to take advantage of loopholes.

One provision would prohibit City Council members from accepting gifts from anyone who has lobbied the city in the previous 12 months, even if the lobbyist is no longer registered. Another is designed to make sure that a business in which a city employee has an interest does not do work for the employee's agency.

"In recent months, the Office of Inspector General and the Ethics Board have each discovered attempts by others to take undue advantage of certain gaps in the Ethics Code," City Inspector General David McClintock and ethics board director Avery Aisenstark wrote in a letter to Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Young introduced legislation Monday on their behalf.

Aisenstark said he took notice of one loophole in January, when a prominent lobbyist attempted to give a gift to a council member. Aisenstark did not identify the lobbyist, the council member or the gift, except to say it involved tickets. He proposed that the council amend the ethics code to ban gifts from anyone who had been a lobbyist in the preceding 12 months.

The lobbyist had been registered with the city in 2010 and 2011 and would be lobbying again in 2012 on a "well-publicized matter," McClintock and Aisenstark wrote. "Should the proffered gift be allowed simply because of a short interregnum between registrations? We think not."

The men also wrote that if a city employee has a financial interest in a side business, the business should not be allowed to enter into a "blanket" contract to provide goods or services to all city agencies. Current law prohibits contracts only with the employee's agency.

Aisenstark wrote of a scenario in which a Department of Transportation employee might enter into a "blanket" deal with the Department of General Services that effectively allowed his side business to do work for Transportation.

"Should that be allowed even though the contract was not with Transportation itself? Again, we think not," the men wrote.

In explaining the proposed changes to the ethics code at a council lunch Monday, Aisenstark said the two changes would "close some gaps" in the ethics code.

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