Ethics Board ponders broader gift disclosure rules

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore City Ethics Board is considering broader rules that would require officials to disclose gifts from businesses beyond the initial year that companies secure contracts.

Dana P. Moore, who heads the Ethics Board, said yesterday that such a change would be made to make it easier for city officials to fill out their annual forms and clear up misunderstandings.

"There seems to be confusion by the folks who are the most frequent users of the law," said Moore, who was appointed by the mayor. "It is not acceptable for there to be inconsistencies in the law when there is so much at stake."

The potential ethics law changes stem from arguments made by an attorney for Mayor Sheila Dixon defending her against a 12-count indictment that accuses her of failing to disclose gifts, stealing gift cards for needy families and misuse of office.

Attorney Arnold Weiner has argued that Dixon had no obligation to disclose furs and designer clothing she may have received from a prominent developer because the city ethics code asks officials to report only gifts received in the calendar year in which the developer entered a contract with the city.

Thus, if a developer enters into a 10-year contract with the city, an official would need to disclose only the gifts provided in the first year, but not in any of the ensuing years, according to Weiner.

The Ethics Board would have to draft changes, Moore said, and a member of the City Council would have to introduce legislation. "We are not there yet," Moore said. "I think that is where we are headed."

The board was set to meet yesterday but did not have a quorum because Deputy Solicitor Donald R. Huskey failed to call in as scheduled.

Nonetheless, the two members present were briefed on another issue raised during Weiner's initial defense of the mayor: How to create a proper list of companies doing business the city.

The ethics code requires the city to maintain such a list, but Huskey has determined that a list used by the Ethics Board does not comply with the law.

In the past, ethics officials directed city employees preparing disclosure forms to use an online database of vendors who received city checks, which had not been certified by the finance director as required.

The comptroller's office will draw a new list for 2008 forms that 1,400 city workers need to file.

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