Smithsburg OKs ethics law

February 04, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

SMITHSBURG -- Although the issue has caused tempers to flare in the past, Smithsburg Town Council members Tuesday night calmly gave preliminary approval to a town ethics law.

Council members will have a public hearing on the proposed law March 3 and could make a final vote on it then. If it passes March 3, it will go into effect in 20 days, town attorney Charles Wagaman said.

A push to have a town ethics policy started last August after Myers cast a tie-breaking vote to reappoint her husband to the town's zoning appeals board, a post some council members said could pose a conflict of interest.

Discussions about a town ethics law have been heated at times, like when the issue was debated at a Jan. 13 council meeting.


At one point in that meeting, Wagaman raised his voice talking to council member Jerome Martin, and Myers banged her gavel trying to gain control of the meeting.

Tensions mounted during the Jan. 13 meeting when council member Donnie Souders Jr. tried to make a motion to pass the county's ethics policy for the town.

Wagaman said an ethics policy could not be acted on at that meeting because the issue was not on the agenda.

Martin, Souders and council member Dennis "Jack" Wenthe voted for the proposed ethics law Tuesday night and council member Shirley Aurand voted against it.

Myers does not vote unless there is a tie.

Myers said after Tuesday night's meeting she did not have any concerns about the proposed law, which steers town officials from ethical problems and generally dictates how they should conduct business.

"I never did have any problem with it," Myers said, adding that she only wanted to make sure it was legal and that town residents were aware of the proposed law.

Myers pointed out that she once served on the Washington County Ethics Commission, which enforces the county governments ethics law.

The proposed ethics law for Smithsburg follows the requirements of the county ethics law.

The town of Smithsburg is exempt from the state ethics law, but that issue is reviewed periodically, Myers said. The review is based on issues such as how much a town has grown, Myers said.

The state is currently reviewing whether the town should continue to be exempt from the state's ethics law, Myers said.

If it is determined the town will continue to be exempt, it can use the county's ethics law, Myers said.

If the state determines the town cannot be exempt from the state's ethics laws, other requirements may be made, Myers said.

Highlights of the proposed ethics law for Smithsburg

The law will apply to the mayor, council members, the town clerk/treasurer/manager, town attorney, all department heads and members of all boards, commissions and committees appointed by the mayor and council.

Under the law, town officials shall not:

o Participate on behalf of the town in any matter which would, to their knowledge, have a direct financial impact on them, their spouse, dependent child or a business with which they are affiliated.

o Hold or acquire interest of either $10,000 or five percent or greater in any business which has or is negotiating a contract of $1,000 or more with the town.

o Be employed by a business entity that has or is negotiating a contract of $1,000 or more with the town.

o Hold any outside employment that would impair their impartiality or independence of judgment.

o Represent any party, for a contingent fee, before any town body.

o Within one year following termination of town service, act as a compensated representative of another in connection with any specific matter in which he or she participated substantially as a town employee.

o Solicit or accept gifts of greater than $25 in value from any person that has or is negotiating a contract with the town.

o Use the prestige of their office for their own benefit or that of another.

o Use confidential information acquired as a result of their position for their own benefit or that of another.

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