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Ethics complaint lodged against Columbia Association board member

Alan Klein speaks to the group of people at a Save Symphony Woods rally in April 2014. Klein, a member of the Columbia Association's Board of Directors, has been accused of violating the organization's code of ethics.
Alan Klein speaks to the group of people at a Save Symphony Woods rally in April 2014. Klein, a member of the Columbia Association's Board of Directors, has been accused of violating the organization's code of ethics. (Nate Pesce, Baltimore Sun Media Group file photo)

Alan Klein, a member of the Columbia Association's Board of Directors, has been accused of violating the organization's code of ethics by at least one board member, a charge that could result in disciplinary action.

According to Klein, the anonymous complaint stems from actions and comments made about the Inner Arbor Plan, a development proposal endorsed by the Columbia Association Board that calls for a curated arts park to be built on 16 acres of CA-owned parkland known as Symphony Woods.

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The complaint, a copy of which Klein provided to The Columbia Flier, claims Klein violated the organization's Code of Ethics and Conflicts of Interest Policy three separate times in November. The allegations are as follows:

-- On Nov. 1, Klein distributed an email to subscribers of an entity he founded called the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, imploring them to testify against the plan at an upcoming Nov. 6 Planning Board meeting.

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-- On Nov. 6, Klein testified against the plan at the Planning Board meeting. He also told the Planning Board that CA President Milton Matthews' testimony, which was in favor of the plan, was unauthorized by the board.

-- On Nov. 19, Klein posted a letter on the website of the village he represents, Harper's Choice, asking residents to again testify against the plan at an upcoming Nov. 20 Planning Board meeting. In the letter, Klein detailed an independent legal opinion that argued the development agreement for the property violates CA law.

The complaint argues Klein, through these actions, violated "good faith" and loyalty provisions in the Columbia Association code. It accuses him of undermining the authority of the president and failing to put the best interests of CA ahead of his personal interests.

Klein, in his response to Columbia Association Board Chairman Russ Swatek, said he does not deny the facts presented in the complaint. He said in the first two instances, he represented himself "solely as the spokesperson for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown."

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In the third instance, Klein said that "failing to be concerned about [the legal opinion] and not wanting this matter independently investigated is, to me, an ethical violation of our duties to CA."

In an interview, Klein said he invites an open, public discussion about the complaint, although he respects the complainant's right to remain anonymous.

"I'm not trying to call anybody out or put pressure on anybody," he said. "I just prefer discussions happen in the light of day."

Klein said he is advocating for the matter to be discussed at an open meeting. The board has open meetings scheduled for Jan. 8, 15 and 22.

Swatek confirmed the complaint had been lodged and said he had made a recommendation regarding a resolution. He would not reveal his recommendation, which he said will be presented to the board, which will then vote on whether to drop the complaint or consider discipline.

He also did not say what potential discipline could come if Klein were found to be in violation of the code.

Swatek said he would prefer the meeting to be closed, but added that part of the process should be public.

"I'm not into charging, trying, convicting and sentencing someone in secret," he said.

Swatek said it could be resolved this month.

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