Carroll sends revised ethics policy back to state commission

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to send another proposed draft of its ethics policy required by state law to the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

A state law, effective Oct. 1, 2010, requires local governments to enact ethics ordinances that meet or exceed those required for state legislators.

Carroll is one of four counties, including Allegany, Anne Arundel, and Montgomery, that have yet to have their ethics policy approved, according to Michael Lord, Executive Director of the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

But Lord said that about 10 municipalities also have not yet gained approval.

"I want to stress that this is not unusual, there's a lot of back and forth," he said. "We're optimistic they'll get there soon."

Commissioners President Doug Howard said the reason the commissioners have yet to have their code approved is not because they don't want to comply, but because the objective is almost impossible.

According to County Ethics Committee Chairman Joe Burns, there were no major changes from the previous policy proposed by the commissioners. He said the changes included mostly tweaking definitions.

He said the county's discussions with the state on the ethics policy is "a compromise like everything else."

"If you have honest elected officials in office, you'll never need an ethics committee or ethics code. If you have dishonest ones, you're never going to be able to do much about it no matter what happens," Burns said.

Lord said the previous ethics code proposed by the Carroll commissioners was "close" and didn't require any major rewriting.

For example, one area of the ethics policy allowed commissioners to receive sporting event tickets, which is not allowed in the state ethics policy.

Although county and municipal governments were expected to be in compliance by Oct. 1, 2011, Lord said there are no penalties expected.

He said the original deadline was not realistic for the commission to review ethics policies from all county and municipal governments.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who needed five minutes alone with Burns to discuss aspects of the code before voting, said aspects of the ethics code is unconstitutional.

"It's nonsense, it's a poorly written document," Rothschild said.

The board recessed for 10 minutes while Rothschild entered into his own closed session with Burns.

Rothschild said he only voted for the code to be sent to the commission is because if the board did nothing it would increase state authority on the issue.

"I'm doing this to mitigate damage," Rothschild said of his vote.

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