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Ethics board says councilwoman's actions were inappropriate

March 17, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean violated the city's ethics code by using 'the prestige of her position' to obtain benefits not afforded to the general public, the Washington County Ethics Commission ruled in an opinion made public Thursday.

The commission dismissed a second complaint alleging Parson-McBean accepted items worth more than $25 from an agency regulated by the city, but in doing so cautioned the councilwoman and "others to refrain from such practices ."

Parson-McBean said she did not have time to comment on the opinion because she is tending to her ailing father.

"I think it would be irresponsible for the mayor and council to simply accept the decision and not take a decisive action," said Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, who declined to comment further without seeing a copy of the opinion or discussing it with the mayor and council as a body.

Former mayoral candidate Anthony T. Campello filed a complaint with the ethics commission March 7 alleging Parson-McBean violated sections of the city's ethics code by her actions following a traffic stop in late January.

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The commission, a five-member panel appointed by the Washington County Commissioners, met March 10 to consider the complaint. The councilwoman declined to testify before the commission, according to the opinion, but instead gave her account of the situation to County Attorney Richard Douglas, who oversees the commission, Douglas said. The two spoke by telephone, Douglas said.

The commission noted it does not have the authority to impose sanctions over council members and that the city counci has the "authority to take any appropriate disciplinary action that may be considered necessary."

Parson-McBean was stopped outside the police department on Burhans Boulevard at about 11:17 a.m. Jan. 20, according to police records. Police have said Parson-McBean was stopped because the registration on her minivan expired in November 2005.

Police have said she was not given a ticket, which carries a $60 fine. Parson-McBean was given a ride to the Motor Vehicle Administration office off Sharpsburg Pike by police Lt. William C. Wright at her request because she said she was on city business, police have said.

According to the opinion, signed by commission chairwoman Dana Moylan and dated Thursday, Parson-McBean said she jokingly asked the officer who stopped her: "Do you know who I am?" She then asked how she would get to the MVA, prompting the officer to ask Acting Police Chief Charles Summers what she should do.

The commission wrote that, even if she spoke in jest, Parson-McBean exercised "an inappropriate use of the prestige of the Councilwoman's office to gain a benefit for herself that would not have been available to a member of the public. Specifically, the Commission finds that the words and actions of the Councilwoman directly caused the initial officer to consult with Acting Chief Summers, which in turn caused the Acting Chief to instruct another officer to provide the ride to the MVA."

The commission found it did not have enough information to determine whether Parson-McBean violated a second provision of the ethics code prohibiting city officials from soliciting or accepting any gifts of greater than $25 from anyone who has or is negotiating a contract with the city, or is regulated by the city.

Campello argued in his complaint that avoiding the $60 citation and receiving a ride to the MVA combined for more than $25. The commission noted officers have the discretion not to give citations and there was no evidence Parson-McBean tried to convince the officer not to give her a ticket.

"While the commission does not approve the actions of the Councilwoman and would caution her and others to refrain from such practices, no violation can be found on the facts as presented," the opinion stated.

Council members Kelly S. Cromer, Penny M. Nigh and Lewis C. Metzner declined to comment on the opinion.

Campello did not return two calls for comment.

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