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Ethics board wants to expand law

The city's Board of Ethics agreed yesterday to recommend prohibiting elected officials from hiring a broader range of their relatives than permitted under the city's current ethics law.

The board drafted proposed revisions to the entire ethics law, and Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration submitted them to the City Council last month. The board's recommendation yesterday would be added to those proposals and is intended to further strengthen restrictions on hiring.

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Records show that a majority of council members have hired relatives for their staffs.

A conflict-of-interest provision in the ethics law now forbids elected officials from making decisions with financial impacts on spouses, parents, minor children and siblings.

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The proposed revisions, which the council will begin to discuss in October, call for applying that portion of the law to adult children as well.

Hiring would fall under that conflicts provision, but, unlike state law, there is no explicit prohibition against nepotism.

State law bans the hiring of a broader range of relatives that include stepparents, stepsiblings, stepchildren, foster children, wards, in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren.

Ten of the council's 19 members have family members working on their payrolls.

Most employ adult sons or daughters. Three on the council - members John L. Cain and Pamela V. Carter and President Sheila Dixon - employ siblings, and another member employs his mother-in-law.

Ethics officials said yesterday that specific hirings were being reviewed as to whether they violate ethics law. The board also recommended yesterday to grandfather the hirings of relatives permitted under the current law that might be prohibited if the council approves the board's recommendation.

The board also discussed gifts to council members that include complimentary passes from Arrow Parking, free entry to the Baltimore Zoo and free tickets to movies at the Senator Theatre and events at 1st Mariner Arena.

The Arrow Parking passes pose the greatest likelihood of ethics law violations because the company has business pending before the council. The company has discontinued the passes, and most council members have given them back. Ethics officials are reviewing those gifts.

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Violations of the city ethics law can be punished by fines of up to $1,000. Fines can be imposed for accepting free passes and the failure to report some gifts on financial disclosure forms.


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