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County ethics commission to release report today

November 24, 1998|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Ethics Commission is to release written opinions today in response to separate questions about Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Ethics commission Chairman Omer T. Kaylor Jr., a Hagerstown lawyer, said he would not discuss those opinions until the other members of the ethics commission have a chance to read them.

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The ethics panel writes an opinion even if panel members find an allegation is without merit, said County Attorney Richard Douglas.

Last week, Bruchey asked the county's ethics commission to determine whether it is appropriate for the city to buy a pickup truck from his employer, Hagerstown Ford.

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Hagerstown City Council members are to vote today on whether to approve an $18,725 contract with Hagerstown Ford Co. for a pickup truck for the city's sewer department. Hagerstown Ford was the low bidder.

The Hagerstown 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 ethics panel also was asked to look into whether Snook violated conflict of interest rules with a vote at a Nov. 17 meeting.

Snook cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the rezoning of Hickory Corner, Inc., land from residential suburban to business, local.

The .64-acre property is in the northeast corner at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Hickory School Road. Commissioners Ronald L. Bowers and John S. Shank voted against the change.

Snook said his daughter, Mary, 18, worked for Hickory Corner store from about November 1997 to May 1998.

During the one-hour closed meeting, Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas said he shared his legal opinions on the two ethical questions before the panel. He would not say what he told the panel or who else spoke before the commission.

Last Thursday, Douglas said he did not see how Snook's vote could lead to a financial benefit or violate ethics policies if his daughter no longer works there.

"I don't see where there is any possible gain from my part," Snook said.

Kaylor said the written opinion on Snook will be short.

"That one is almost nothing," he said.

Kaylor would not say whether that meant that the commission had determined the allegation was without merit.

Bruchey and Snook said they did not speak before the ethics commission and did not hear from the members Monday.

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

Most also said it would be unfair to penalize Hagerstown Ford because it employs the mayor.

Bruchey, who is Hagerstown Ford's fleet department manager, was not involved in submitting the bid nor would he receive a commission should the sale be approved, said Charlie Benson, the dealership's general manager.

As mayor, Bruchey votes only to break a tie. City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman has said Bruchey couldn't break a tie on a contract with his employer.

This is the first time the company has been the low bidder for a city contract since Bruchey began working for the auto dealership in January 1998.

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