Whose ethics are really in question? Carroll: Court backs Lennon rebuke, but commissioners bear ultimate responsibility.

January 12, 1998

THE CARROLL COUNTY Commissioners may have won their ethics case against former planning commission member Robert Lennon, based on a Court of Special Appeals decision. But the ultimate responsibility remains where it has always been -- with the commissioners themselves. Appoint a zoning lawyer to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and there will be endless potential conflicts of interest. You may gain free legal expertise, but that is a small benefit compared with the disadvantages: loss of commission credibility, perpetual exclusion of that member from board decisions, a cloud of suspicion over the appointee.

The state court decision upheld the county Ethics Commission's authority and (presumably) procedures in the commission's finding that Mr. Lennon, a Westminster attorney handling real estate cases, violated the ethics law.

That was the good news from this appeal: a strong statement of validity for the county law and for the ethics panel, an issue the county thought worthy of the appeals costs. But the appeals-court decision on Mr. Lennon -- he had been fired by the commissioners, won reinstatement in Circuit Court and then resigned in good standing -- is a moot point.

Mr. Lennon should have been more judicious in limiting his activity on the board, freely stating his potential conflicts. But something was bound to occur sooner or later to raise questions of his impartiality and lead to an ethics panel inquiry.

That his ouster was an obvious political act by commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates, annoyed with Mr. DTC Lennon's pro-development stands, does not enhance their reputations. Fact is, the commissioners appointed him and should have been aware of such conflicts. Donald I. Dell picked Mr. Lennon, and his selection was approved as a courtesy by his fellow commissioners.

The commissioners must take a more active role in discussing and deciding appointments to county panels. If each commissioner insists on his own right to appoint members of county boards on a rotating basis, these potential conflicts will become more frequent. Appointments should be made by the commissioners as a whole. The commissioners need to examine their own ethics in appointments.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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