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Hagerstown council considering ethics policy review

August 11, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown City Council members agreed Tuesday that the city's ethics policy needs to be reviewed and possibly updated.

They weren't sure, though, who should do the study.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said council members should look for people they know and trust to be on the advisory committee.

But Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said she preferred the opposite -- picking people based on their credentials, who aren't seen as friends of the council.

Haywood suggested recruiting someone in academia, but Metzner said he'd rather see real-world experience.

The last comprehensive review of the city's ethics policy was in the early 1980s, according to City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

The code sets standards for city officials in negotiating contracts, accepting gifts, using confidential information and disclosing finances, among other topics.

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Council members talked about creating a city ethics commission, rather than relying on the county's ethics commission, which is the current procedure.

But the county ethics commission doesn't set or suggest penalties.

Metzner said he's "very uncomfortable" having one body hear a case and another -- the city council -- consider a penalty.

Councilman Forrest Easton said that if a city council member were found guilty of an ethics violation, it might be awkward for his or her colleagues to recommend a sanction.

William Nairn, a city attorney, said some parts of the ethics code, such as dollar amounts on certain prohibitions, might need to be updated for current times.

But Metzner said he wants to be careful about not watering down the language to make it less strict.

Council members agreed that they'd like to have a city attorney and a city employee on a five-member review committee.

They agreed to look at other municipalities' ethics policies before the next council meeting.

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