Baltimore officials and virtually all of the city's 25,000 employees will have to live up to a strict code of conduct that prohibits favoritism in hiring, forbids the personal use of government property and restricts political activities.
Under an executive order issued by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday, city workers also must disqualify themselves from decisions involving businesses in which they or their relatives have a financial interest.
The code of conduct, the first for city employees and unpaid members of city boards, restates the ethics law and sets new standards. Penalties would vary from a reprimand to dismissal, and could include a misdemeanor charge if there's a breach of the ethics law.
"Instead of having a huge book that nobody reads, we'll have a summary that gives everyone clear guidelines," Mayor Schmoke said.
Some of the provisions go beyond the existing ethics law, which governs conflicts of interests, gifts and financial disclosure.
There is a general statement that "employees shall not ask for or accept more favorable treatment than other residents of Baltimore." City workers also are prohibited from responding to private inquiries about confidential records, and the code broadens the conflict-of-interest provisions to include work for a non-profit organization.
An almost identical code was developed by the ethics board for the City Council. It includes most of the same provisions but also restricts the council from interfering in judicial matters, contracting decisions and hiring by the executive branch.
City council members and the ethics board began looking into ways to strengthen the existing law and create a more simplified code after several ethical questions were raised in the last year about city officials.
Last fall, federal auditors determined the city Housing Authority had doled out millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to friends and relatives and concluded the authority's conflict-of-interest regulations were "inadequate."
Superintendent Walter G. Amprey also was faulted for failing to file a required financial disclosure report. When Dr. Amprey turned in his first statement last October, he reported taking two trips paid for by Education Alternatives Inc. to tout Baltimore's school-privatization venture, which fueled criticism that he was too close to the company.
And five City Council members came under fire last summer for meeting with Baltimore's top judge to discuss the criminal corruption trial of former comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, who has since been convicted and sentenced.
The code issued by Mr. Schmoke will be distributed throughout city agencies.
FOR COPIES OF CODE
To receive a fax copy of Baltimore City's Code of Conduct, dial Sunfax at (410) 332-6123, then punch in the information number 5900 when the automated attendant requests your selection. You must have a fax machine and a Touch-Tone phone. The document is six pages long.