Ethics bill is called too vague Council tables lobbying ban


David G. Boschert's ethics bill -- which was tabled by the County Council at Monday night's meeting -- was, like the path to perdition, crafted with good intentions.

But according to four of his colleagues, the council chairman's bill -- which sought to prevent lobbying by former county employees and elected officials for one year after they left the government -- was too vague and possibly unconstitutional.

Council members Maureen Lamb, Carl G. Holland, George F. Bachman and Diane R. Evans voted to hold the bill and let the county's Ethics Commission, which will be appointed later this month, deal with it. Mr. Boschert and Councilman Edward Middlebrooks opposed the motion.

Mr. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat, said he intended the bill to cover only former mid-level managers and above, those who set policy for the county. And the bill would only have prevented them from directly lobbying county officials on legislative or executive action.

"The intent was there for those people who were knowledgeable of policy in the county and who knew how to work through the maze of government" to be affected by the legislation, Mr. Boschert said. "It was not vague. The intent was there."

But his colleagues said the bill did not specify which employees would have been included under the lobbying ban.

"I think it certainly was not clear whether it covered secretaries or laborers," said Ms. Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat. "It didn't say it was for policy-making employees."

"How do you designate a mid-level manager?" asked Mr. Holland, a Pasadena Republican. "Do you do it by salary, do you do it by title, do you do it by grade?"

Mr. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, expressed concern that the ethics bill might penalize employees who might be laid off as the result of County Executive Robert R. Neall's government reorganization.

"This ethics bill more or less puts a clamp on these people," Mr. Bachman said. "Here we are sending them to the unemployment line, but we are limiting them at the same time."

An additional blow to the bill's fate was a letter from Maryland Common Cause's associate director, Deborah Povich, who supported the bill, but with reservations.

"As written, the bill appears overly broad, and in possible violation of an individual's First Amendment right to communicate with elected officials," Ms. Povich wrote.

"The bill currently applies to former county officials and employees," Ms. Povich continued. "A one-year post-employment cooling-off period need only apply to a subset of employees who are in decision-making and/or policy-making positions, or who supervise the employees who make those decisions. Common Cause/MD recommends the bill define top-level employees, and apply only to those decision-makers."

Mr. Boschert offered amendments Monday night that sought to specify who would and would not be covered by the bill. But the amendments did not go far enough in his colleagues' eyes.

Yesterday, Mr. Boschert was philosophical about his attempt. He said he had been approached by representatives of three businesses as well as several "prominent members of the Crofton community" concerned about possible lobbying.

"I did what I promised I would do. I put the bill in and unfortunately, it didn't pass," he said. "But we will have an ethics commission coming in . . . and it will be addressed at that time."

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