Chevy Chase Village again has filed for an exemption from the state’s ethics law for elected officials, after failing to find enough volunteers to fill voids left by two board members who resigned due to the requirements.
Town officials sent a letter to all 720 homes in Chevy Chase Village on Oct. 18 asking for volunteers to serve on the board of directors, said Village Manager Shana Davis-Clark. The board is short two members after Vice Chairman Peter T. Kilborn and board member Thomas H. Jackson resigned earlier this year.
After 30 days just one resident offered his name as a replacement.
“We asserted we would lose members by resignation and village residents would not be willing to serve,” Pat Baptiste, chairman of the board, said Monday. “The [Maryland State Ethic’s] commission said we would be able to find people and then voted against exemption. We now have failed to garner the sufficient number.”
Baptiste would not name the resident who offered to serve, but hoped that gaining an ethics exemption would increase the number of candidates willing to step forward.
The seats will be left open pending the outcome of the exemption request the village filed Nov. 15, she said. The ethics commission turned down the village’s first request for an exemption in September.
“The ball is in their court now,” Baptiste said, adding that other board members have expressed they too may step down from the board if the ethics laws remains in place. “We are really dead serious.”
Trouble is, this is new ground for the ethics commission, according to Michael Lord, executive director for the commission.
“It is not precluded to have a reconsideration and it is not specifically authorized either,” Lord told The Gazette on Monday. He added that no other municipality denied an exemption has asked for the commission to reconsider that decision.
The commission is expected to have the Chevy Chase Village request on its Jan. 24 agenda to determine how to proceed, but will not make a decision on the request at that meeting, Lord said.
Assuming the village gets a second crack at an exemption, Baptiste said she plans to ask that the ethics commission meeting be recorded and a transcript be provided so the issue can be examined by other municipalities in a similar situation.
Hearings are not recorded, Lord said in an email.
The General Assembly passed the new ethics standards in 2010 with local governments given until Oct. 1, 2011 to approve their own ethics laws to meet the new requirements. Many municipalities like Chevy Chase Village got a one-year extension to get the laws passed. The commission has the authority to exempt small municipalities, but village officials said the town’s annual budget of $4 million was too high to be exempted under the state’s criteria.
Baptiste is hoping the village’s failure to find willing board members is enough to change the commission’s mind about the ethics law that requires disclosure of real property, stock and interest in business entities where ever they are located. The requirements are not limited to the elected officials themselves, but also include financial interests of spouses and dependent children. Chevy Chase Village officials claimed the additional requirements are burdensome and intrusive.
It’s left the board struggling to get business done, Baptiste said. The board has just five members serving now, with four necessary to reach a quorum.
“During our meeting of four people if a board member had to step out we had to stop the meeting. It is difficult to have a functioning government under these circumstances,” Baptiste said.