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Sager awaits Ethics Commission decision on eligibility

February 22, 2001

Sager awaits Ethics Commission decision on eligibility



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


Hagerstown City Council candidate Steven T. Sager, who works for the State of Maryland, may have to withdraw from the council race but he won't know for sure until after the March 13 primary election, Sager said Thursday.

Sager is waiting for an opinion from the State Ethics Commission, which he said will come at least a week after the primary.

The commission is reviewing whether Sager's full-time job would pose a conflict of interest with the duties of a City Council member.

Sager is a regional representative in the Division of Neighborhood Revitalization for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

"I do expect they'll say OK But the light isn't green until it's green," he said.

Sager acknowledged the situation puts him and voters in an awkward position.

"Each voter will have to make their own judgment of the circumstances. If they're inclined to vote for me I hope they still would There is this question mark over it and that's unfortunate but that's how it is.

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"If they're on the fence about me this could push them to (vote for) someone else. It's unfortunate for me but those are the circumstances," Sager said.

According to the City Charter, if one of the top five votegetters in a party's primary withdraws, then that party's central committee selects a replacement candidate for the general election ballot.

As a regional representative in the Division of Neighborhood Revitalization, Sager works with local government employees on redevelopment issues in Washington, Frederick, Allegany and Garrett counties.

Sager said Ethics Commission representatives have said he would have to relinquish his job-related activities in Washington County.

"Clearly I would not be able to represent the department to Hagerstown or Washington County," Sager said. "Before it was something we were probably going to do. Now it's something we're going to have to do."

Sager said he's "double checking" with his supervisors to see if he could swap Washington County with another regional representative in exchange for one of that representative's counties.

Sager said Ethics Commission representatives told him he is prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions from those he interacts with at work, is not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $20 or $25, which he said is a restriction for state employees, and if elected Sager would have to recuse himself from council discussions and votes on issues involving his department.

Sager is among eight Democratic candidates vying for one of five seats on the City Council. The March 13 primary ballot will list nine Democrats, but candidate Brian E. Coss said Wednesday he was withdrawing from the race and would not accept a spot on the city's May 15 general election ballot.

Coss said he withdrew because he probably falls under the federal Hatch Act, which bars most government employees who are paid with or who oversee the spending of federal funds from running in partisan elections.

Sager has cleared his candidacy with the State Attorney General's Office. He said he does not fall under the Hatch Act.

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