Ethics Matters News

On Tuesday, June 6, Commissioner Gene Ransom introduced two amendments to the County’s new Ethics Law.  The first amendment addresses and corrects two problems ( the definition of “family member” and the exception/modification provision) raised by the State Ethics Commission in its April letter to the County stating that it could not approve the County’s new Ethics Law.         
Ransom’s second amendment deals with the level of evidence necessary to establish a violation of the Ethics Law.  When the Commissioners revised the Ethics Commission’s proposed Ethics Law, they raised the level of proof necessary to find a violation to “clear and convincing evidence” and at the same time removed the Ethics Commission’s ability to subpoena evidence.   These actions stripped the Ethics Commission of its ability to enforce the Ethics Code.  If an independent Ethics Commission is unable to gather and examine evidence, how can it find whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” of wrong-doing?  It’s equivalent to not letting the Health Department inspect the restaurant kitchen when people have complained about getting sick after eating there. This second Ransom amendment lowers the burden of proof necessary to find a violation back to “a preponderance of the evidence,” but, critically, it does not restore the subpoena power that was in the draft law proposed by the Ethics Commission.  The Ethics Commission, lacking the power necessary to gather and examine evidence from uncooperative persons, remains hamstrung and ineffective when deciding complaints.

Ethics Matters believes there are other problems with the new Ethics Law that keep it from meeting State standards.  Under the new Ethics Law:
a government official or employee can have a financial interest in or be employed by a company that is doing business with his or her government agency; 
- some officials who make decisions on behalf of the public have no accountability in the form of a financial disclosure requirement;
        - large numbers of County employees do not have to meet any of the standards of the Ethics Code; and
       - two provisions pertaining to lobbying have been weakened.

Queen Anne’s County needs to have a strong Ethics Code that county employees and other citizens can take pride in.  Sadly, we have a code the State cannot approve because it does not even meet minimum State standards.
 June 12, 2006
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Posted on 12 Jun 2006 by admin
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