Raskin wants to tweak state ethics law -- Gazette.Net


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State Sen. Jamie Raskin said he will push again for legislation to modify the state’s ethics law in order to keep small-town officials from resigning over strict financial disclosure requirements that already have led two Chevy Chase Village representatives to step down.

Raskin, who was one of the original sponsors of the 2010 legislation, had sought to change it after the Maryand Municipal League warned it would cause a problem for smaller communities to attract and keep qualified people to serve in office.

“This was an unfortunate and unintended consequence of a good ethics law,” Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said. “So I’m hopeful we’ll clean it up as soon as we get back to Annapolis.”

The Special Senate Committee on Ethics Reform recommended the changes in the last legislative session, but Senate Bill 948 failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

“We were very disappointed that this did not make it through the last session, but we’re going to redouble our efforts to relieve the burden on the smaller municipalities,” Raskin said.

“Everybody agrees for the larger communities and the city of Baltimore the state-level ethics requirements make sense, but for smaller localities the costs really outweigh the benefits.”

Two members of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers, the village’s town council, resigned last week after the State Ethics Commission did not exempt the village from having to meet the new financial disclosure requirements.

Under the new disclosure requirements, municipal officials and their spouses must list all of their financial assets -- from mutual funds to real estate to investments in businesses, no matter where they are located.

Two pages of forms have to be filled out for each stock or bond owned, so ownership of 25 stocks and bonds would require 50 pages of paperwork. Previously, the officials signed a form stating that they had no conflicts of interest with companies doing business or wanting to do business with the community.

Maryland Municipal League research director James Peck said the league will lobby the legislature again in 2013 to change the law. About half of the state’s municipalities were granted exemptions, but the other communities had to pass new ethics laws to comply with the state requirements.

Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers Chairwoman Pat Baptiste said more resignations probably would have occurred on the seven-member board, but the remaining managers wanted to maintain a quorum.

The two vacancies will be filled by appointment, but Baptiste said she worried that applicants might not step forward because of the financial disclosure requirements.

The resignation last week of Peter T. Kilborn, vice chairman of the board and an author and former New York Times reporter and editor, was followed by board member Thomas H. Jackson, a patent attorney and partner in a law firm in Washington, D.C.

Both cited the lengthy paperwork and nature of the financial information sought, including for spouses, in their decision to leave office.

The town did not meet the criteria to be exempted by the State Ethics Commission because Chevy Chase Village has an annual budget of about $5 million

“No one will be willing to serve on our board of managers going forward,” Jackson said of the stricter disclosure requirements.

cford@gazette.net