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City Board of Ethics holds closed session


The city's Board of Ethics met last night in closed session, with possible ethical lapses by City Council President Sheila Dixon expected to be on its agenda.

The five-member board met for less than 90 minutes, and its chairman, Robert L. Bogomolny, declined afterward to reveal any specifics of the discussions.

In a statement after the meeting, Bogomolny, president of the University of Baltimore, said the city's ethics code precludes the panel from discussing any pending matters regarding city officials, noting the confidential nature of the process.

The last time that the board reviewed Dixon's actions, nothing was publicly released until a final ruling was reached.

In the 2003 case, Dixon was forced to fire her sister from her City Council president's payroll.

The board's new interest was spurred by articles in The Sun this month detailing Dixon's conduct at official hearings and meetings involving a company that employs her sister.

This month, Dixon participated in a council committee hearing held to determine whether Comcast of Baltimore has honored the minority subcontracting provision of its cable television contract.

At the hearing, Dixon advocated for several specific firms, including the company that employs her sister, Janice Dixon.

But the president never disclosed her sibling's job at the hearing or in the financial disclosure form that public officials must file with the city's ethics board.

The form requires officials to disclose relatives who work for companies that do business with the city or that are regulated by the city.

Her sister's employer, Union Technologies, is regulated by the city's Minority and Women's Business Opportunity Office, which has certified the firm as a "minority and women business enterprise" since 2000.

The certification renders the company eligible to be hired as a subcontractor to help companies meet the city's rules on hiring minorities and women.

Dixon amended her financial disclosure form after The Sun revealed the potential conflict.

Dixon's new report says that her sister has worked for the firm, also known as Utech, since February 2004 as "operations manager." The company has four permanent employees, according to city records.

When asked about the company, Dixon initially said that she has always abstained when it came before the city Board of Estimates.

But a review of city records shows that Dixon voted three times in two years on a contentious board contract that involved Union Technologies and ultimately awarded the firm nearly $1 million.

She never disclosed her sister's job. Her staff said they erred in not alerting the president to her sister's involvement and said the president would have abstained had she been aware.

After the articles in The Sun, Bogomolny confirmed that the ethics board would review Dixon's actions.

If the ethics board determines that a violation has occurred, it can take several actions according to the city code: issue a reprimand, issue a cease-and-desist order of the action causing a violation, seek judicial relief or refer the matter to other authorities for further disciplinary action, "including censure or removal."

It was not clear last night when the board would hold its next meeting.

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