Westminster employees told to accept no gifts County's ethics probe prompts memo


In response to concerns about the Carroll County ethics policy, Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown sent a memo Friday to city employees stating they must not accept gifts from people with whom they have business relations.

"None of us will accept anything from any party whom we either now, or are likely to, regulate or contract with, or from any entity which represents the interests of such parties," said Mr. Brown in the memo.

At the county level, the ethics commission is investigating the financing of a county inspector's trip to a convention in St. Paul, Minn., for which the local home builders association paid $500.

"There is to be no question as to where a line should be drawn," the mayor's memo said.

"Nothing is appropriate -- not a cup of coffee, not a lunch, not a holiday gift -- nothing!"

Presents will either be sent back to the sender or given to a local charity, said the memo, which was also sent to Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works; John D. Dudderar, city clerk; Stephen V. Dutterer, director of finance; and Sam R. Leppo, police chief.

"I wanted to address the issue with city employees before any incident came up," Mr. Brown said Friday afternoon. "I'm simply acting on my authority as executive to direct and control the behavior of city employees.

"This has nothing to do with any boards or the City Council -- they are free to determine their own policies."

Mr. Brown said current city policy requires employees, board membersand council members to sign a statement that they have not received gifts worth $25 or more from people with whom they do official business.

"I do not believe that this either infers the right for employees to receive gifts up to that amount, or limits my authority to redefine said limits for City employees," the memo said.

He also said he feels the policy helps city employees avoid difficult situations.

"I think zero is the clearest line you can draw," Mr. Brown said. "You don't need to wonder if something is acceptable. It's as crystal clear as you can get."

No city employees have commented on the memo, nor does the mayor expect them to, he said.

"I really don't anticipate any great reaction because I think they are alloperating under such a policy anyway," Mr. Brown said.

But the mayor said the strengthened policy does not affect the fruitcakes he gives every year around Christmas.

Since Mr. Brown took office in 1989, he has baked the cakes to give to other mayors, department heads, friends and family.

"The fruitcakes were purchased with my own money and given on terms of friendship," he said. "I have had a good time in the past three years making them, and it has worked out well."

The mayor -- who had suggested the city pay for the cakes when he took office -- said he has changed his mind on that.

"In the light of 3 1/2 years' experience, I don't think I'd be suggesting we'd be using city money for that," he said.

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