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Smithsburg has no recourse for ethics complaints

August 14, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG -- A Smithsburg resident has requested that the Washington County Ethics Commission review a tiebreaking vote cast by Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers this month to reappoint the mayor's husband to the town's zoning appeals board, a Washington County attorney said Wednesday.

However, the commission has no jurisdiction over Smithsburg, which has no ethics ordinance or board and no agreement with the county to have its ethics commission serve as its own, said assistant county attorney Kirk Downey. Downey said he knew of no recourse for ethical complaints concerning the Smithsburg town government.

"I don't know that there's any other alternative, since the municipality has not enacted a local ordinance," he said.

Smithsburg resident Donna Tritapoe said she sent in the complaint because she felt the mayor should have recused herself from voting on a matter directly involving her husband.

"My question for review by the Ethics Commission would be whether or not Mayor Myers acted unethically in casting a tie-breaking vote in favor of her husband and whether Mayor Myers should have removed herself on voting for the reappointment of her husband," Tritapoe wrote in the letter, which she provided to The Herald-Mail.

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The mayor cast the vote at the town's Aug. 5 meeting after the council was split 2-2 on whether to confirm the reappointment of Homer Myers to the zoning appeals board. Councilmembers Donnie Souders Jr. and Dennis "Jack" Wenthe, who voted against the confirmation, have said it could present a conflict of interest. Jerome Martin, who had previously opposed the confirmation for the same reason, was absent.

"I'm hoping that someone can come in and do something to hopefully have it re-voted, because I think that's the fair thing to do," Tritapoe said. "(The mayor) took advantage of the situation when a member was out."

Mayor Myers said she would not bring the matter to another vote.

"I do not think it was unethical, because of the circumstances," Myers said Wednesday.

The remaining members of the zoning appeals board had requested to have Homer Myers put back on, and several had said the board urgently needed a fifth member to proceed with hearing cases, the mayor said.

"It was difficult, but to me it's more unethical to have someone file an appeal and not have a full board to hear the appeal," she said.

In addition, Myers stressed that the zoning appeals board does not answer to the mayor and council. Appeals of the board's decisions are handled by the Washington County Circuit Court, she said.

Myers confirmed that Smithsburg does not have an ethics ordinance or board. She said the Maryland State Ethics Commission exempted Smithsburg from the requirement to follow the state ethics ordinance or enact its own on the basis of its small population size.

Smithsburg's population as of the 2000 census was 2,146.

At that size, "everybody is either related to each other or knows each other or whatever," Myers said. If the town had an ordinance limiting relationships between town officials, it would have trouble finding enough people to fill its committees, commissions and elected positions, Myers said. As it is, the town has had to consolidate its commissions due to lack of volunteers to serve on them, she said.

Tritapoe said she thought the exemption should be re-examined based on the dramatic growth in Smithsburg's population over the past few years.

She said she was disappointed the county commission would not be able to hear her complaint, and she would consider other ways to pursue the issue.

Myers invited anyone who has an issue with the vote to sit down with her to discuss the matter. She also encouraged anyone with concerns about her husband's service on the appeals board to bring specific accusations before the council.

"If there's issues, I would like to settle them in the town," she said.

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