A first year law student looks up terms in Black's Law Dictionary many times a day. That reference book defines a precedent as, "An adjudged case or decision of a court, considered as furnishing an example or authority for an identical or similar case."
In 2006 it was my distinct privilege and high honor to serve on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners for a four year term. After consulting with then Carroll County Public School Superintendant Dr. Charles Ecker, I applied to work as a substitute in our public schools.
Before working as a substitute, I made a full disclosure of this plan in a regular open meeting of both the commissioner board and the board of education. My goal was to work as a substitute three days a month.
After working as a substitute twice, a leading citizen of our county wrote a letter to the commissioners' office raising questions about whether it was proper for a commissioner to work as a substitute teacher in our public schools.
In response, I wrote the Carroll County Ethics Commission to seek an advisory opinion on whether this posed an ethical problem. Their decision was that it did create an ethical conflict. They directed me to cease any further work as a substitute. They further directed me to return the money earned on those two days of working as a substitute.
I submitted myself to their authority regarding no longer subbing. I declined to accept their direction of returning the money earned on those two days.
Recently an ethics complaint has been filed regarding the decision commissioner-elect Dennis Frazier has made to continue his career as a teacher in our public schools for three days a week after he takes office as commissioner. He has publically written about this issue in a letter to the editor in the Carroll County Times. He's also given multiple interviews to Times reporters on his intentions.
I have a bit of unsolicited advice for Frazier: Do not press the point of continuing to serve as a teacher after taking your oath as commissioner. Retire the day before taking your oath.
Were he to chose service solely as commissioner, the whole matter is settled without further discussion or controversy. Choosing a career as a teacher has been a noble choice on his part. Choosing to run for commissioner was equally noble on his part.
Now has come the time for him to choose between these both equally noble pursuits. Should he instead insist on trying to do both, I foresee trouble for many parties who would be connected with such a path.
The Carroll County Times weighed in with some sobering words about my situation six years ago. It was in the form of an editorial printed on March 19, 2008. The headline read, "Conflicts should be avoided."
The first sentence of this editorial noted, "Public officials should not accept money from groups or individuals when they might later be making decisions that affect those same groups' or organizations' bottom line."
My trip to the wood shed further observed, "Perhaps it is a symptom of how little we expect from our public officials that County Commissioner Michael Zimmer sees nothing wrong with taking money from the school system in exchange for substitute teaching, even though he will later rule on financial issues involving the school."
The closing paragraph of this editorial related that, "Taking money in exchange for favors is inappropriate. Putting yourself in a position where you are accepting money from a group or individual when you will later be deciding the budget for that same group or individual opens the door for allegations of impropriety."
If it was wrong for me to work three days a month as a substitute teacher, how can anyone justify Frazier working three days a week as a part-time teacher?
The voters of Commissioner District 3 want Frazier to represent them on the next commissioner board. He should do so in a way that is free from any ethical clouds hanging over his head or the head of anyone else connected with these circumstances.
Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears on Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.