Carroll County's commissioners may have been blind to the obvious conflict of interest when the county's chief of permits accepted money from the Home Builders Association to take a trip to St. Paul, Minn., last September.
But at least the county's ethics commission is clear-sighted.
After investigating the incident, the three-member panel of citizens has concluded that Ralph E. Green should not have accepted the $500 gift from the Carroll County chapter of the Maryland Home Builders Association. The ethics commission vTC also admonished the commissioners for approving this transaction.
The ethics panel was on target when it pointed out that Mr. Green, who was attending the national convention of the Building Officials and Code Administrators, would be voting on items of direct interest to the Home Builders Association and Martin K.P. Hill, the owner of Masonry Contractors, who initially paid $150 of Mr. Green's expenses.
Mr. Hill and his fellow builders have a monetary stake in building code changes. One of the proposed changes voted on at the convention, dealing with stair widths and heights, could have cost builders a great deal of money. When Mr. Green voted with the majority and defeated the proposed change, it appeared as though he was returning a favor. Mr. Green's job is to look after the public's interest -- not the homebuilders'.
The ethics commission properly advised county officials to avoid similar conflicts of interest or situations in which the government's integrity and fairness may be open to question.
The ethics panel's recommendation against punishing any of the parties involved is also appropriate. Let this incident be a warning; if it happens again, punishment may be necessary.
Judging from the commissioners' reactions, they apparently have learned part of the lesson. They professed they will not repeat their mistake.
On the other hand, they excuse their mistake by saying it was innocent. If the commissioners did not realize the implications of accepting the home builders' money, they are naive.
In the future, the commissioners would do well to carefully ponder the appearances created by Carroll officials who accept gifts from groups that they regulate.