Mount Airy reluctantly agrees to revise ethics laws -- Gazette.Net


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Facing tougher state-mandated regulations, Mount Airy officials are reluctantly revising the town’s laws that govern conflicts of interest and financial disclosure.

To comply with state ethics law, the Mount Airy Town Council next month could approve a draft of the town’s proposed ethics regulations requiring, among other things, more detailed financial disclosures from elected officials.

However, town officials say that the stricter requirements could limit public involvement in local government.

In 2010, state legislation required that counties, school boards and municipalities submit a draft of their new laws by Oct. 1, 2011, for approval by the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

The local regulations must match state ethics laws to which lawmakers in the General Assembly are subject. Previously, Maryland law only required that the ethics provisions be similar to the state’s.

Under the state mandate, elected town officials would be required to file financial disclosure statements that provide information about property and business investments of “qualified relatives,” including children and siblings — a stipulation some have said is unnecessary.

“I like the ordinance for career politicians, but it presents a challenge for smaller towns,” Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg said Tuesday in an interview.

The state commission also ordered the town to require elected officials to include all property and investments in their financial disclosure documents, instead of those holdings just within the town limits as previously mandated.

During this year’s 90-day legislative session that ended last month, the town council endorsed a bill proposed by Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park that would have required elected officials to only disclose property they owned in the same jurisdiction as they serve, or property acquired from a person who has done business with their local government.

It also stipulated that officials would only have to disclose business holdings that do business with or are regulated by the local government.

But the bill failed to pass the General Assembly.

“The smaller municipalities raise a good point,” Raskin said of the state law. “Local government officials have all the same requirements that [state officials do] in terms of disclosure. We would have zeroed in on the places where a conflict of interest would be most relevant [with my bill].”

Even though the bill did not pass, Raskin said that he is committed to “working something out.”

Mount Airy officials submitted a draft of a proposed ordinance to the state commission after reviewing the town’s laws in the summer of 2011, and once again in September of last year, which did not include the state ethics model governing the disclosure for relatives of elected officials.

The new draft incorporates the state commission’s suggested changes, said Dick Swanson, chairman of the Mount Airy Ethics Commission.

“What we did was incorporate the words that the state wanted instead of our language,” he said. “We are going to go with the state law now.”

The five-member town council must vote to send the ordinance to the State Ethics Commission for final approval. After receiving that approval, the council must then vote to adopt the new ordinance.

As of last October, ethics laws in Frederick County and the city of Frederick had met state approval, along with Emmitsburg and Walkersville.

Some towns, including Burkittsville, Middletown, Myersville, New Market, Rosemont and Woodsboro, are exempt from the ethics mandate, mostly due to their smaller size.

Michael Lord, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, was unavailable for comment this week on the status of the laws for towns such as Thurmont and Brunswick.

Rockinberg said that the proposed ordinance could deter residents from volunteering to hold any of the nine positions currently open on various town panels, which include the Water and Sewer and Economic Development commissions.

“Going forward it very well may be a factor,” he said.

myoung@gazette.net