The Carroll County Ethics Commission decided yesterday to investigate a potential conflict of interest involving a county inspector who accepted $500 from the county homebuilders' association to attend an out-of-state convention.
"We can't say yea or nay" about the inspector's possible conflict of interest without getting more information, said commission member Philip Wampler of Westminster.
Before discussing the issue, the commission closed its regular monthly meeting at the suggestion of Assistant County Attorney George Leahy, who acts as an adviser.
Mr. Leahy said later that, in the closed meeting, commission members discussed whether they have the legal authority to investigate anonymous complaints, such as one they received about the trip after The Sun revealed it.
He said he told the commissioners they do have that authority. The commission then decided it would investigate the circumstances of Ralph E. Green's trip and the financing arrangement with the Home Builders Association, Mr. Leahy said.
The three commission members briefly discussed the issue, which was first raised in Sunday's Carroll County edition of The Sun. They agreed to gather written information on the trip and discuss it at next month's meeting.
"Any time when there's any semblance of a conflict of interest, then it would bother me," said commission Chairman Thomas W. Lewis of Westminster.
The Carroll County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland paid $500 toward the cost of sending Mr. Green, chief of the Bureau of Permits and Inspections, to the national Building Officials and Code Administrators convention in St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 21-25.
County records show that the trip cost $1,352. The county paid $852.
(The Sun originally reported that Mr. Green's trip cost $852, with $500 of that paid by the home builders. Those figures were based on incomplete information obtained from an employee in the Permits and Inspections office.)
The county commissioners approved Mr. Green's trip, with the home builders' contribution. Later, the commissioners said they
saw no conflict of interest in the arrangement.
Mr. Green, the only Carroll representative at the convention, voted on proposed changes to the national building code. He voted against making residential stairs lower and wider than currently required.
The Home Builders Association opposed the change because it would increase construction costs and require the redesign of existing house plans. The proposal was defeated at the convention.
Manchester developer Martin K. P. Hill said at a Carroll chapter meeting Oct. 15 that the home builders' money had been well spent.
Ethics Commission members brought copies of the Sun article to yesterday's meeting. But they said they could not comment on the trip based on a newspaper story.
Mr. Wampler, a former Westminster city councilman, said the commission wants to hear from the people who were involved.
Mr. Lewis, a retired Montgomery County secondary school principal, said he had received a call from a man who did not want to give his name but was concerned about the trip.
The Ethics Commission members intend to get information from Mr. Green, the Home Builders, and Robert A. "Max" Bair, the executive assistant to the county commissioners.
Julia Berwager of Manchester, a retired Anne Arundel County physical education teacher, is the third Ethics Commission member. She did not comment on the issue.