2 members of Arundel Charter Revision Commission resign

Two members of an Anne Arundel County panel charged with considering sweeping changes to county law and councilmanic districts in a once-a-decade review process have resigned under pressure from the county's Ethics Commission.

Linda M. Schuett and Dirk D. Haire, both attorneys, tendered their resignations Monday from their seats on the county's Charter Revision Commission, which has been meeting for more than a year and is set to submit its recommendations to the County Council in April.

The Ethics Commission recently advised Schuett that her work as an attorney for former Councilman Daryl D. Jones violates ethics rules prohibiting county employees from doing "harm" to the county. The Ethics Commission considers members of the Charter Revision Commission, who are volunteers, county employees.

Schuett is representing Jones in a pending lawsuit seeking to prevent the council from replacing him as he serves a five-month federal prison term for failing to file his taxes. Haire is representing a construction contractor in a pending suit against the county over work on a wastewater treatment plant in Crofton.

Councilman Jamie Benoit, who along with five of his colleagues requested an exemption from the Ethics Commission to allow Schuett and Haire to continue to serve, called the ethics opinion "draconian" and "bizarre." He questioned the notion that commission members are county employees and said he planned to introduce legislation before the council that would "render their opinion moot."

"I can't think of two people more qualified to serve," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "They both have intimate knowledge of county law. … Really competent people aren't going to be permitted to do volunteer work by virtue of doing their jobs as lawyers."

Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the Ethics Commission, could not be reached for comment. Chairman Richard L. Hillman declined to comment.

Schuett, in an emailed statement, said ethics officials asked her to choose between remaining on the commission and representing Jones.

"I think it is a bit overreaching to treat those who volunteer to provide services to the County for free as 'employees,'" she said. "The members of the Charter Commission have no decision-making power at all — they merely use their collective expertise to provide advice to the County Council. Despite this, I respect the Ethics Commission and its decisions."

She added, "I chose to continue my representation of Councilman Jones because I firmly believe that the County Council has ousted him from his elected office without the power to do so under the law."

Haire said when he read the ethics opinion on Schuett he decided to resign.

"It's not difficult to decide between my livelihood and some thankless volunteer job," he said. "This whole thing is utterly ridiculous. This is why people hate government. … The thing that's most ludicrous is [the Charter Revision Commission] is simply advisory. There's no power."