Neil Ridgely

Never before in the history of Carroll County Government has its board of commissioners been so obviously determined to shut the public out of its affairs.

While the five commissioners may use their public relations staff to champion their meager efforts at open governance, the facts show they take every opportunity to shutter any sunshine from the county offices.

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What the public doesn't see of their actions and sidebar meetings of course remains unseen and unreported on - and that's just the way they want it to remain. They want to be seen railing against a federal and state law which holds the county accountable for its runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. They want to be seen and heard wailing about any restrictions on automatic weapons or trying to use a permitting process to weed out the unstable characters that obtain weapons to perform civic massacres.

The commissioners don't want the public to see their use of the county attorney to deny access to emails and documents under the shakiest of pretenses, calling many documents pre-decisional or protected by attorney-client privilege, even when disclosure would do the county no liability - but it may embarrass a commissioner or two's behavior in office.

Case in point is the unattended county ethics ordinance which was required by state law to be made no less stringent than the ethics law governing state employees and elected officials.

The commissioners were to have amended the existing county law by October 2011, but the county attorney and one commissioner in particular, Richard Rothschild, are on record as stalling the process for some 20 months under the guise that they just feel it unfair that a commissioner has to disclose all of his or her real estate holdings and partnerships.

All of Carroll's municipalities have to meet the same stringency standard as well, but it is the commissioners who are playing games with it. In January of 2013 I asked the county for numerous documents pertaining to the county ethics ordinance. I was not only denied copies of letters, emails and various drafts of a new ordinance as being pre-decisional, I was denied an actual copy of the draft amendment submitted to the State Ethics Commission for approval. The county certainly didn't want me to see the copy that commissioner Rothschild made red line remarks all over.

In contrast, I asked the State Ethics Commission for their copies of many of the same documents and they were provided to me in a matter of days. Watching the commissioners and the county attorney haggle over this amendment on the county TV station is a discomforting task as some commissioners freely admit to having no problem providing full disclosure to the public, while Rothschild and Commissioner Robin Frazier wriggle in their seats and concoct a symphony of reasons as to why they will not comply with the law.

The importance of full disclosure by elected officials is quite simple. County commissioners and key staff make many decisions regarding property acquisition, and they may be included in decisions made by the Industrial Development Authority as a part of the county's economic development efforts.

Commissioners and/or staff involved in secret real estate development partnerships may benefit from their insider information either as buyers or sellers. There is no longer an agency within county government to provide an internal audit which would catch such cheating - or even hold the commissioners accountable to completing an honest annual financial disclosure statement.

It's time for the stalling on a reasonable ethics ordinance to come to an immediate end; lest all five of the commissioners be smeared with the mire from two who at least act like they have something to hide. The State Ethics Commission needs to use all of its authority to penalize Carroll County and force it to comply with state law. In the meanwhile Rothschild should be held accountable for completing an honest financial disclosure statement that lists all of his partnerships and real estate holdings.

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