Mayor Brown's Gift Policy CARROLL COUNTY

November 10, 1992

Westminster city employees may be chagrined over Mayor W. Benjamin Brown's order that they not accept any gifts -- not so much as a cup of coffee -- from people doing business with the city, but the mayor is right.

To be sure, there is no evidence or implication that city employees have been accepting gratuities from people, then doing special favors. City employees should not infer that Mayor Brown is accusing them of misdeeds. Instead, he is working to prevent any question from arising about the conduct of City Hall.

Trust in government at all levels is at an historic low. When public officials accept gifts, they only increase the public's suspicions about the independence and fairness of government.

News reports that the head of Carroll County's Bureau of Permits and Inspections accepted a $500 contribution from the Home Builders Association to attend a conference prompted Mr. Brown's memo. The Home Builders wanted to defeat a proposed change in the model building code. The county official voted the way Home Builders wanted; one builder was quoted as saying the money was well spent on that vote alone.

If the Home Builders donated their services to the Office of Aging, which they have done in the past, the question of currying favor would not automatically come up. However, when a group's beneficence is directed to the office that regulates it, doubts arise about the group's intent.

Mr. Brown makes sure that won't happen in Westminster because he tells city employees not to accept anything "from any party we either now, or are likely to, regulate or contract with." With that kind of admonition, there won't be any question about buying favors from city officials.

Is Mayor Brown's ban on all gifts an overreaction? If the ban applies to the annual plate of holiday cookies that the police receive from Erma King or flowers for a housing official, then the ban overreaches. Citizens are donating out of the goodness of their hearts and showing their appreciation to hard-working public employees.

However, when a contractor gives holiday fruit baskets to the people who inspect his work, the gift sends off mixed signals. Under those circumstances, the ban is appropriate. Other government officials should follow Mayor Brown's example.

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