It's disappointing that when the Frederick County Commissioners debated which of two sets of state-mandated ethics codes to adopt, they chose the less restrictive to send to public hearing.
Two options were created by the state: one that is more suitable for a larger county government, one tailored to a smaller one.
Despite Frederick County's size and Commissioners President Blaine Young's own push for a county executive form of government due to growth, the latter was the one Young ordered a county attorney to use as the basis to draft changes in Frederick County's code.
We have to credit Commissioner Paul Smith especially for his opposition to the less restrictive code. It was Smith who faced a firestorm of public opposition in December when he proposed repealing a section of the ethics law enacted to ensure greater oversight of who is trying to influence county officials.
That proposal was quickly shelved.
It seems like Young has a convenient out with the state-driven move to increase the uniformity of local ethics provisions. He can argue he has little choice in the matter, propelled as it is by the state.
But the requirement is only that the law be "similar" to the state's, not an exact replica. We'd urge the commissioners, if they truly have the commitment to transparency they've claimed, to revise and strengthen lobbying laws.
We hope the commissioners tread carefully in this area. Haven't we seen enough malfeasance by officeholders uncovered to want more public scrutiny?
Take former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, who has admitted taking at least $200,000 in bribes from developers. There's also state Sen. Ulysses Currie, the chairman of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, who stands accused of being paid to use his position to lobby on behalf of a supermarket chain. Let's not even delve into the murky waters of the federal government.
Influence is difficult to chart, but not impossible. Sometimes we need rules on the books that may be hard to enforce, but which represent reminders for sterling standards of conduct.
As this Board of County Commissioners moves ahead with ethics reform, we'd urge it to tighten the ethics rules beyond what's required by the state, and make our county a beacon for ethical behavior in government.