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City council wants change in ethics law

November 22, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Most of Hagerstown's five City Council members say the city's ethics law might have to be changed if it prohibits the city from buying a truck from the mayor's employer.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he wants the Washington County Ethics Commission to decide whether the city can buy a pickup truck from his employer, Hagerstown Ford Co.

Hagerstown Ford's $18,725 bid was the lowest of six sales offers.

Most council members said it would be unfair to penalize Hagerstown Ford just because it employs the mayor.

Bruchey, head of the dealership's fleet division, was not involved in submitting the bid, city and company officials said.

The ethics code states that city officials shall not "be employed by a business entity that has or is negotiating a contract of more than $1,000 with the city."

The way the law reads, it appears the proposed contract is not exempt, but the law should be reviewed, Bruchey said.

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As of Friday afternoon, county government attorney Richard Douglas said he had not received a request from the city to have the ethics commission review the matter.

The commission may review the matter during a hearing already scheduled Monday, Douglas said.

If not, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said he will ask the council Tuesday to table the vote on the proposed contract until the commission can review it.

Asked about the matter, Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said, "I think that it is not realistic to expect that people in business in this community, and (who) are elected to public office, should be prohibited from their businesses doing work with or providing services for the city."

Council members Saum-Wicklein, William M. Breichner and Lewis C. Metzner said they don't think the contract is unethical. They said Bruchey wasn't involved in the bidding, and the bids were sealed.

Saum-Wicklein said she wouldn't have a problem approving the Hagerstown Ford bid.

"I'd much rather see the money stay in the community," she said.

At $19,063, the second-lowest bidder was Baltimore's Bob Bell Chevrolet.

Councilman Metzner said that if the law makes acceptance of Hagerstown Ford's bid unethical, the law should be changed.

"I don't personally have a problem when there's a sealed bid on non-unique items," said Metzner, who is an attorney.

Breichner said the law may need to be revamped, especially because the number of local car dealerships has decreased since the law was adopted in 1982. Having fewer local dealerships limits the council's opportunities to spend taxpayer money locally, he said.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said he wants to hear what the city attorney has to say about the matter.

"I do not want to be in violation of an ethics point," McClure said.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he wants to do what is "right and ethical."

"I would not in any way, shape or form be a party to anything that would violate the code of ethics," Boyer said.

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