Why I filed city ethics complaint

May 14, 2006|by TONY CAMPELLO

As many of you have seen, I have filed ethics charges against Hagerstown Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman over the use of city funds and staff for the "Building Community" organization.

This filing was not meant as an indictment of Building Community, an organization that many of us in the community do feel has potential of helping people in our community. This is strictly about the actions of Zimmerman and McBean.

Both are founding members of Building Community. Both are also public servants to the City of Hagerstown. This is a combination that on the surface appears to be fine.

However, their actions in this matter have caused great debate and many harsh words in our community. Instead of confronting the issue, we have been met with weeks of talk by some members of the council and inaction by others. This is intolerable, as elected officials are supposed to be concerned not with how they look or what people think of them, but holding the public trust and acting in the public's interest.


On Aug. 30, 2005, Parson-McBean is quoted in the city council minutes saying that "she and staff have been working on identifying leaders in the city." McBean had no authority under the law to use or direct city staff unless it was approved by the council as a whole. It was not voted on or approved. Yet despite this, city resources were used against explicit wording of the city code, and a private organization founded by the councilwoman benefited.

Last year, $367 was given by the city administrator's office budget to the Building Community organization. This money was discretionary funds that the council did not have to approve. However, it recently has come to light that Zimmerman was also a founder of Building Community. While he has discretionary spending, it clearly appears that there is a conflict of interest in that city money was given without council approval to a private organization that Zimmerman started.

Some will say that the money was repaid, so what is the big deal? The big deal is that a member of the city government took taxpayer money without oversight and funded a private organization. Where do we draw the line over what organizations city employees can fund without the council approving it?

How many very worthwhile organizations in our community could use money from the city or have city staff work on issues or jobs at their organization? Just about all could. But those organizations cannot write themselves a check as Administrator Zimmerman did for his organization. They do not have a councilwoman who does not have the authority, according to the city code, to direct city staff to work on the jobs needing to be done in their organizations.

How many good, worthwhile organizations have had to go hat in hand and ask or practically beg for money from our city council? Those organizations have to go through the real process, which includes speaking or presenting for the council and then letting the council vote. This was a process that Councilwoman McBean and Administrator Zimmerman ignored.

Holly Place, Martin Luther King Center, Little Leagues and many other organizations follow these procedures every year. Building Community should be no different, but it was treated differently because of who its leaders were. Zimmerman and McBean were both wrong. They have slapped every member of any organization in the city who follows the rules in the face by their actions.

Tony Campello is a resident of Hagerstown.

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