Baltimore Co. Council Plans to Scale Back Ethics Bill

baltimoresun.com

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

2:13 PM EST, December 19, 2011

Baltimore County Council members plan to introduce a set of amendments tonight that would weaken parts of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s ethics reform proposal.

All members of the council are listed as sponsors of the amendments. Here are some examples of what they would do:

•    The original bill said council members could accept free tickets to charitable, cultural, sporting and political events — if the ticket came from the person sponsoring or conducting the event.  An amendment strikes the words “from the person sponsoring or conducting the event,” so they could take tickets from anyone.

•    Another change strikes out a section spelling out definitions of conflicts of interest for council members. The members would still be covered under another section of the bill that defines conflicts of interest for all public officials, but those definitions are written more broadly.

•    The original legislation said public officials could not accept gifts from someone they know does business “with the county.” The amendment narrows that rule to say they could not accept gifts from anyone who does business with the “public official’s office, agency, board or commission.” 

•    The council plans to change language in a proposal to prohibit public officials from being paid to help a party with matters involving county agencies. The amendment would make the rule only apply to people who are helping the business for “contingent compensation.” This means that a volunteer on a county board could still help his or her employer with an issue or contract involving a county agency – because their salary is not contingent on that matter.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed the ethics bill in November. Many of the things in the legislation are driven by a 2010 state law that makes local governments have conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements that are at equivalent to rules for state officials.

Even with the council’s amendments, the new ethics rules would meet those state requirements.
Other parts of the bill will require elected officials’ financial disclosure forms to be posted online, and strengthen a charter rule that prohibits County Council members from working for the state.

If approved, the new rules would take effect in January, although the financial disclosures forms would not have to be posted online until later in  2012.

All members of the councils sponsored the amendments. Here are some examples of what they would do:

  • The original bill said council members could accept free tickets to charitable, cultural, sporting and political events — if the ticket came from the person sponsoring or conducting the event.  An amendment strikes the words “from the person sponsoring or conducting the event,” so they could take tickets from anyone.
  • Another change strikes out a section spelling out definitions of conflicts of interest for council members. The members would still be covered under another section of the bill that defines conflicts of interest for all public officials, but those definitions are written more broadly.
  • The original legislation said public officials could not accept gifts from someone they know does business “with the county.” The amendment narrows that rule to say they could not accept gifts from anyone who does business with the “public official’s office, agency, board or commission.” 
  • The council plans to change language in a proposal to prohibit public officials from being paid to help a party with matters involving county agencies. The amendment would make the rule only apply to people who are helping the business for “contingent compensation.” This means that a volunteer on a county board could still help their employer with an issue or contract involving a county agency – because their salary is not contingent on that matter.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed the ethics bill in November. Many of the things in the legislation are driven by a 2010 state law requires local governments to have conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements that are at equivalent to rules for state officials.

Even with the council’s amendments, the new ethics rules would meet those state requirements.

Other parts of the bill will require elected officials’ financial disclosure forms to be posted online, and strengthen a charter rule that prohibits County Council members from working for the state.

If approved, the new rules would take effect in January, although the financial disclosures forms would not have to be posted online until later in  2012.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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