Ethics commission did its job Anne Arundel County: County executive should not take solace in report on hiring.

November 18, 1996

MEMBERS OF Anne Arundel's Ethics Commission have rapped County Executive John Gary's knuckles for circumventing personnel policies when he secured government jobs for four former campaign workers and State House employees after his successful 1994 race. However, while it rebuked Mr. Gary and his personnel department, the commission declined to take further punitive action.

What would the group have accomplished by continuing its investigation? Perhaps these four employees would have to be moved out of the merit positions they now occupy. But the real culprits are the higher-ups who ignored county hiring regulations.

Since the report does not call for any further investigation or sanctions, the administration considers the report a vindication. But the document does not exonerate the county executive.

Instead, it serves to put Mr. Gary and other top officials on HTC notice. They must follow impartial recruitment and assessment procedures in evaluating applicants for civil service positions. If Mr. Gary wants to reward loyal political employees, he will have to appoint them to exempt positions -- a tack he should have taken two years ago.

Some believe the ethics commission is a toothless tiger because it failed to recommend more severe action. To the contrary, that body is not charged with ferreting out criminal activity or levying penalties. The state's attorney and county courts hold those responsibilities. If the Gary administration's hiring practices violated the law, law enforcement officials must look into that, not the ethics commission.

Most matters brought before the commission are conflict-of-interest questions about whether a public office has been misused for private gain. Sometimes these ethical issues are obvious. Often, they are difficult to resolve. Trying to shed light on these knotty questions is not easy, but that does not mean the effort should be abandoned.

The commission's job is educational -- identifying unethical actions by elected and appointed officials, publicizing them, ensuring they are not repeated. Regarding the issue of Mr. Gary's patronage jobs, the commission, albeit after much delay, fulfilled its mission.

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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