County Council's Assault on EthicsThe Anne Arundel County...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

June 11, 1995

County Council's Assault on Ethics

The Anne Arundel County Council made a serius mistake when it voted to reduce the ethics commission's budget by 40 percent. Public trust is endangered when the body charged with oversight of public officials is blindfolded.

Other parts of the budget have a built-in constituency, but an ethics commission has few advocates. Little information has reached the public concerning the devastating cuts the ethics commission received due to an 11th-hour move by the council to undermine the overseers.

For a savings of .00005 percent of the county budget ($37,000 out of a $733,200,000 budget) -- a pittance by any standard -- the County Council voted to slash the year-old ethics commission 10 percent of the recommended amount and 30.5 percent of its current budget. This drastic reduction jeopardizes the viability of the county ethics commission without making a measurable difference to the taxpayer.

The budget cuts were not recommendations from the county auditor or the executive, but the council members themselves. Is the council afraid of a little scrutiny? The message sent to the public under the guise of fiscal austerity is, "We're above the need for oversight."

The ethics commission was created through a charter amendment passed by voters in the 1992 elections.

Since its creation, the commission has conducted a comprehensive review of county ethics laws and recommended several changes that were approved, somewhat begrudgingly, by the council.

These changes include stricter disclosure of gifts from lobbyists, those doing business with the county and those regulated by the county.

Since the ethics commission was founded, lobbyist registration has increased fivefold because someone is finally monitoring the store; not because there has been a drastic increase in the number of lobbyists in the county.

The commission has issued one formal opinion (the folks in the tax sales office will no longer be able to bid on properties offered for sale because they have access to insider information); filed informal opinions, and is working on another. And the ethics commission is currently conducting two investigations.

Yet the council does not believe the two part-time staffers have enough to do to keep them in the office the 20 hours a week they are currently working, much less approve the increase of 32 hours the commission requested. Or else, they just don't want them there.

Our system of self-governance relies on the people's trust and confidence in public officials. Trust in government is at a nadir. Quashing the county's independent ethics commission is no way to move that trust toward the zenith.

Deborah Povich

Annapolis

The writer is executive director of Common Cause-Maryland.

7-Day Visitor Resource

I was delighted to see The Evening Sun recognize our newest visitor attraction in Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy Visitors Center.

This center is a real plus, not only for the Naval Academy but for the entire area. The presence of the academy in our small community makes us known worldwide. Now, when people come to the area to visit, they have a first-rate facility to tour which will tell them the academy story.

I was concerned, however, with some incorrect information conveyed in your editorial of May 22.

You stated, "The new center will be quite an asset for Annapolis as well. Because it is open seven days a week, it is one of the few places where a visitor can always count on getting information."

The Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau operates a full-service visitors center at at 26 West St. This center, opened in July 1993, operates seven days a week except Christmas and Thanksgiving. It is manned by a loyal group of volunteers who happily share their enthusiasm for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County with our visitors.

This center has major signage from U.S. 50-301 and is conveniently located next to the Gotts Court garage. In addition, we continue to operate our information booth on City Dock seven days week during fair weather months.

Together, these centers assisted 194,000 visitors in 1994. That's about 40 visitors per hour!

We welcome the new Naval Academy Visitors Center and we dTC know that we will enjoy being good neighbors. The new center will continue the tradition begun by the conference and visitors bureau of welcoming visitors to Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

Peggy Wall

Annapolis

The writer is executive vice president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau.

Marley Creek Dredging

I would like to commend Andrea Siegel for the excellent article she wrote [May 10] on the Marley Creek dredging project finally coming to fruition.

I was very pleased to have played a part in getting these projects moved along in the waterways process. There were three other dredging projects in District 31 that were included in the state waterways budget for funding.

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