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Baltimore ethics board to provide 'guidance' on gifts

Baltimore Sun reporter

The Baltimore Board of Ethics agreed on Monday to provide "guidance" to city employees on proper protocols for soliciting money and gifts, but deferred a decision on whether to investigate possible employee ethics violations in soliciting money for the Baltimore City Foundation.

The move follows a Baltimore Sun investigation that documented questionable transactions by city employees using money from the foundation, which was created primarily to help finance city projects for the needy. The report also documented how employees who raised money for the foundation had little, if any, awareness of ethics rules governing those activities.

Both the foundation, which said it didn't employ a fundraiser, and the mayor's office said they don't trace which employees raise funds.

"Clarification is necessary and it's good; we will provide that," said Dana P. Moore, the board's chairwoman.

Moore made her comments after City Solicitor George A. Nilson, in response to the Sun investigation, asked the board Monday to adopt regulations governing solicitations.

City ethics law prohibits employees from soliciting private donations from anyone who "does or seeks to do business" with the employee's agency or whose business is regulated by the agency. Since the law was changed in 2004, the ethics board has had the authority to grant exemptions in cases where the funds would benefit an official governmental program or activity or a city-endorsed charitable activity. Nilson said he did research and determined that the ethics board has not adopted regulations since the 2004 law change.

"What everybody would like to have is a set of regulations and guidance from the ethics board that makes it possible for people in the private sector to be appropriately asked to support city projects without running afoul of the ethics board's views on appropriate do's and don't," he said.

Nilson urged the board to act by the end of the year, adding: "Neither I nor anybody else in the administration has any particular point of view to advocate."

The ethics board did not decide on Monday whether to grant a request from Councilman William H. Cole IV to review whether city employees have violated ethics statutes by soliciting money for the City Foundation.

"We did decide to take a 'wait-and-see' approach," Moore said. Moore said the board agreed to respond to Cole's request, but had not decided what to say or when. She said if the board decided to conduct a review, it would be unclear how much it could do, since it has only one staff member.

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