When commissioners interviewed potential candidates late last month for two open positions on the ethics commission, among the routine questions of background, qualifications, availability and familiarity with the code came some very pointed inquiries.

From reporter Bethany Rodgers’ July 31 article: “A couple of the questions addressed specific situations the ethics commission might face, such as whether a commissioner can own a business while in office and what restrictions are appropriate in these cases. The applicants also tackled a question about whether the ethics commission should be allowed to reconsider a prior opinion.”

Perhaps these questions appear innocuous enough at first blush. In fact, they’re as loaded as a six-shooter with a full chamber. Implicitly, what the commissioners are getting at is how candidates would have ruled in the case of Commissioner Kirby Delauter, who sought the ethics commission’s opinion after his election on whether his company, WF Delauter & Son Inc., could bid on county government capital improvements projects.

Initially, the commission ruled no. Delauter secured an attorney and appealed. The ruling was overturned. Another complaint led to another hearing that vindicated Delauter of any conflict of interest. In between, membership of the commission changed. In April 2013, new members were appointed. The question of elected officials’ business ties was brought up during those interviews as well.

This was a messy, unpleasant and, for Delauter, costly business.

And it is this leading line of questioning from our elected county leaders that makes a compelling case for a more independent ethics commission, one with members who are not hand-picked by the very people they are supposed to police.

Rodgers interviewed candidates for executive and county council for a story that appeared Saturday asking about ethics reform. We ran a long but interesting piece by at-large council candidates Susan Reeder Jesse and Linda Norris on our Aug. 3 Sunday commentary page. They had some solid suggestions for improving the crucial work the ethics commission undertakes.

First and foremost, the new county government must revise how commission members are selected to prevent deck stacking. We recognize that it’s impossible to create a perfectly pure process devoid of any favoritism, but at the very least a nonpartisan group could vet and nominate candidates.

The ethics commission’s structure and powers need to be changed to accommodate the complexity and special interest pressure that will come with the new executive post and county council. The commission’s attorney should come from outside county government to lessen any influence from his or her boss in the executive’s office.

The commission should have subpoena power to compel testimony and solicit supporting documentation. Finally, the code should be updated and criminal penalties included to ensure enforcement, with violations submitted to the state prosecutor or state’s attorney’s office.

One complaint this election season is that voters have lost both trust and confidence in their elected representatives, most especially the commissioners. That trust can be restored if the public has confidence that our county council and executive are abiding by a stringent code of behavior overseen by a panel that is, as much as it is possible to be, beyond reproach.

(20) comments

WileECoyote

All I needed to read to know how wrong this is was this portion of line 1:
"When commissioners interviewed potential candidates late last month for two open positions on the ethics commission,..."

The people who actions are judged by the ethics folks are hiring the ethics folks.
Does anyone see the sick, off the rails thinking going on in our county government here...

backroomfrederick

I stopped expecting ethics in this county when Blah and Kermit decided the only way to make a living was through government welfare and dooped their supporters with a fake "good 'ol boy' theme that doesn't illustrate their daddy-pampered existance in the least. Their spoiled tempers do nothing to refute this. Shremp...an empty headed add on. A sorry bunch and old fashioned shame they had 1 day in office.

Dwasserba

I watched part of it and thought, wow, a stress interview, and on camera, too.
An ethics commission needs "teeth" to feel confident, and it seemed clear after the Delauter fiasco that simply hiring a lawyer is sufficient threat to overthrow even the most obvious decision. Because it was. It so was.

Dwasserba

I watched part of it and thought, wow, a stress interview, and on camera, too.
An ethics commission needs "teeth" to feel confident, and it seemed clear after the Delauter fiasco that simply hiring a lawyer is sufficient threat to overthrow even the most obvious decision. Because it was. It so was.

Extra Ignored

Trust isn't about ethics; it is about them and us, party affiliation.

cctjr64

And this is one of many reasons why there are a lot of Republicans voting for Jan Gardner and a lot of the other Democratic candidates.

BstD59

I can see where several changes are necessary in order to have honest government. Not only do Ethic Board members need to be appointed by an outside, unbiased source, but I think it has become necessary to have an outside source draft Ethics violations and have the taxpayers vote them into law. It makes no sense whatsoever to have the very people who are required to follow rules of ethics to have the authority to make the rules as well as break the rules. Perhaps 'rules' are just too simplistic, and what we need are laws, with stiff penalties. I think this current Board of Commissioners has proven that guidelines or rules certainly don't work. They have also proven that laws can be changed to suit their own selfish needs which is why I believe that laws of ethics need to be approved by the voters and cannot be changed by any CE or Councilman.

sofanna

I agree!

And, if no one has noticed, we have two democrats running for County Executive. Mr. Young changed his affiliation to republican so he'd have a better chance of winning. It's really not about party affiliation, it's about honesty, integrity, and unbiasly (you get my point) working for the people of the entire County.

OFMV

Just one of Kirby Delauter's latest misuse of office and conflicts of interest - Bullying Thurmont staff and threatening to sue the Mayor over a water line contract change he attempted to obtain 'no-bid' by offering charitable kickback funding for the Senior Center: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.711058898947759.1073741890.183339988386322&type=1

#2 "like an arrogant old woman waiting in line at the Chicken Buffet": Threatening Thurmont and county staff to expedite permits for Advanced AutoParts site resulting in a $9K permit for WFDelauter: https://www.facebook.com/OneFrederickManyVoices/photos/p.711083598945289/711083598945289/?type=1&permPage=1

#3 Helms case smoking gun email demanding expediting Delauter's contract work for Drees homes at Linton at Ballenger Creek: http://1drv.ms/1r1m2CX

armillary

Your #2 link was very impressive.

"Kirby has milked the taxpayer long enough."

Dwasserba

Arrogant old women resent the comparison

OFMV

[thumbup]

jpsell

Oh sure, those who oppose the current BoCC claim that voters have lost trust
and confidence in their elected officials. So lets have an election to hash it out.
The one flimsy example of Kirby Delauder is no reason to create another wheel.

armillary

“If it wasn’t ethical, they’d make it illegal,” says Blaine Young, the President of the Board of Frederick County Commissioners. Reported here.

Or to put it another way, "If it's not illegal, it's ethical."

With a moral compass like that, anything goes. What we want is government that avoids even the appearance of impropriety. What we've got is government that's steeped in it, that revels in it.

Need an example?

1.) An extramarital affair between a commissioner and a direct report county employee.

Feel free to add your favorite example of impropriety committed by our sitting commissioners.

Extra Ignored

How fortunate there is a higher level of government to make it illegal.

guido207

There can be no question that when an elected official like Kirby Delauter can bid on County project while at the same time he has power and control over the entire process, influence over the developers, Purchasing Department, the employees, the evaluation process, pricing, and even the supervision and inspection of work, it is a conflict of interest.

This is why the one of the first things the Young Board did was eliminate the rule and criminal penalties the Gardner Board had put in place to prevent an elected official from doing business with the County, and why they "stacked" the "Ethics" Commission with friends like Bud Otis.

It is great to see we have County Council candidates like Linda Norris and Susan Jessee who will join County Executive candidate Jan Gardner to restore confidence in Frederick County government.

BlueDawn666

"but at the very least a nonpartisan group could vet and nominate candidates."...This is the very least but easily doable. If I was to ever go into politics I would demand an outside independent ethic panel review everything I did, wanted to do or thought about doing as to whether it was an ethic violation. I would have no dirt on me and would not allow anyone around me to have any dirt on them, honesty and transparency above anything else.

They would have the task of vetting everyone that had anything to do with my office. If you cannot take the heat then get out of politics, you want to stop dirty corrupt politics this is how you are going to do it.

SaveFrederick

An independent ethics commission will help restore trust in county government but we still need to elected honorable people. Never before have we seen commissioners grill the applicants for the ethics commission in the interview process so they could select people who would allow the commissioners to do business with the county and violate the public trust. Adding back the penalties for ethics violations, eliminated by Young, Delauter and Shreve, is also needed.

fourstoogesandthatotherguy_the

Moe Young, Larry Smith, Curly Delauter and Shemp Shreve no longer being in office will "help renew trust in county government."

Their indictments will REALLY "help renew trust in county government."

BecauseICareALot

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