Anne Arundel County ethics committee has 45 days to review Pittman complaint

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission has 45 days to review an ethics complaint filed against County Executive Steve Schuh by his Democratic foe Steuart Pittman .

But with the general election less than a month away, the commission is under a tight deadline.

Pittman called for an investigation Saturday after his opponent, Steve Schuh, used Anne Arundel County letterhead to send a memo to Crofton-area residents.

His opponent alleges that Schuh violated state election laws barring candidates from using taxpayer-funded resources for campaign materials. The incumbent says the memo was intended to correct “misinformation” from Pittman’s campaign and was not political.

Pittman’s campaign filed an ethics complaint Monday afternoon, his campaign manager Pete Baron said.

The Pittman campaign claims the memo was political; it mentions Pittman by name.

“The purely political nature of this memorandum is obvious at first glance,” said Baron in the complaint he delivered to the Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission.

“This flagrant use of public resources, including the use of county letterhead, computers, resident lists, resources and staff, to prepare a memorandum to address alleged ‘misinformation’ by a political opponent is a clear violation of both state and county public ethics laws.”

The county ethics commission will review the complaint and determine if there has been a violation, said Michael Botsaris, the commission’s executive director.

The election is Nov. 6.

“I hope they expedite the process, given the situation. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Baron said. “If this is really a violation, taxpayers should hear what the ethics committee has to say.”

It is possible the commission reaches a decision before its 45-day deadline.

“I don’t know if we would need the 45 days,” Botsaris said. “Practically speaking, (the commission is) aware of the general election date and they’re aware that, if possible, they would move as quickly as appropriate.”

The length of time the commission will need to investigate a complaint depends on what the report is alleging, Botsaris added.

The commission cannot comment on specific complaints, but generally, if it determines a violation has been made, it will take steps to address the allegations.

Those actions are determined by the severity of the violation.

If a violation is suspected, the commission can then perform activities like conduct hearings, approach the respondent to get their position, and issue consent orders or cease and desist letters, said Botsaris.

Owen McEvoy, a spokesperson for the county, denied the Schuh administration breached any rules because the memo dealt with constituent concerns.

The memo, which was sent Friday, addressed development in the Crofton area, specifically the Enclave at Crofton and Two Rivers projects.

“Mr. Pittman seems determined to try and prevent accurate information from being conveyed to communities. That resistance to transparency is sad,” McEvoy said. “We stand by our continued communication with residents, and the county executive will not be bullied into preventing residents from knowing the facts regarding official land use decisions.”

John Willis, executive in residence at the University of Baltimore’s School of Public and International Affairs, called the content of the memo “unusual.”

“What’s unusual about Schuh’s memo is that he engages his opponent directly,” Willis said. “It’s clear that he’s taking on Pittman in the letter. It’s not just informational.”

“He’s point-by-point rebutting his political opponent. To mention your political opponent by name is unusual.”

Pittman’s campaign also brought attention to other letters from Schuh’s administration, one related to the Chesapeake Bayhawks’ proposed project at the Crownsville Medical Center and another that responded to criticisms after the county police union endorsed Pittman.

Those letters were also printed on county letterhead and Pittman says they pose potential violations, too.

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