Still stinging from two ethics scandals this year, the leaders of the Maryland General Assembly announced their all-star cast to review the state's ethics laws yesterday -- a panel to be chaired by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.
In a related development, Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed several members to a separate task force to examine state health care procurement practices -- a study precipitated by the ethical problems of former state Sen. Larry Young.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. were clearly pleased with their selection of Cardin as chairman of the 15-member ethics study commission.
"It is a stroke of good luck for us that we have been able to convince Congressman Ben Cardin to chair this task force," Taylor said.
Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, was speaker of the House of Delegates nearly 20 years ago and oversaw the rewriting of the state's public ethics law.
"We have a good deal of institutional knowledge and we're going to use that to try and reform these laws and make them fit today," said Cardin, who sat until last year on the U.S. House of Representatives' ethics committee.
The 3rd District congressman acknowledged a problem with the public perception of elected officials and pledged to "restore confidence in the system of government" through the work of the commission.
Cardin said the panel will concentrate on a variety of concerns, including legislators' use of offices, staff and equipment; potential conflicts of interest, particularly for legislators employed by state agencies or by businesses with issues before the Assembly; and the authority and enforcement powers of the legislature's ethics committee.
Miller and Taylor decided to create the commission this year -- during what Miller called "one of the darkest moments" of the Assembly -- when the legislature was rocked by the first of two investigations by its ethics committee.
In the first case, the Senate expelled Young, a Baltimore Democrat, for breaching state ethics laws. The next month, Del. Gerald J. Curran, another Baltimore Democrat, resigned amid an ethics committee investigation into his insurance business dealings.
The commission, which consists of nine members of the general public and six legislators, will begin work May 12 and meet weekly through the summer under a tight deadline, Cardin said. A preliminary report on its findings is scheduled for August. A final report is due in February.
Members, however, want to have their final recommendations ready by December, before the start of the annual 90-day Assembly session in January, so changes could be approved as emergency legislation during the session.
Commission members include Jervis S. Finney, a former federal prosecutor who led the Young and Curran investigations for the ethics committee, and Helen L. Koss, who chairs the state election board and is a former chair of the ethics committee.
Others are Stuart O. Simms, Maryland's public safety secretary and a former Baltimore state's attorney; Sherry F. Bellamy, president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland; Shirley D. Peterson, president of Hood College in Frederick and former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service; Ray Jenkins, former editorial page editor of The Evening Sun; John R. Stierhoff, a former aide to Miller, now a lobbyist; and Deborah Povich, former director of Common Cause/Maryland, a government watchdog group.
Legislators on the commission are the co-chairmen of the ethics committee, Sen. Michael J. Collins and Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr.; Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount and House Majority Leader John Adams Hurson; and Senate Minority Leader F. Vernon Boozer and House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman.
The makeup of the commission was lauded yesterday, though critics had a few reservations.
"Ben Cardin is a terrific choice," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland. "He has enormous credibility, and I think that he'll see that something meaningful gets done."
But Skullney said she was concerned that no "ordinary citizens" were on the panel -- only "professionals, public office holders and Annapolis insiders."
Glendening tapped Baltimore attorney Charles O. Monk II, a former Maryland deputy attorney general, to head the second task force examining state health care procurement practices.
With the attorney general's office, Monk supervised the prosecution of cases growing from the state's savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. Monk is managing general partner with the firm of Weinberg & Green.
"Charles Monk is ideally suited to lead this challenging task of ensuring the public that the state's health care procurement process is fair, efficient and free of any actual or potential conflicts of interest," Glendening said.
Among the governor's other appointees are Donna Hill Staton, a state deputy attorney general; John O'Donnell, executive director of the State Ethics Commission; and Charlie Fisher, a Carroll County attorney and former chairman of the State Health Services Cost Review Commission.
The legislature's ethics committee recommended that the governor appoint such a task force after its investigation of Young's business dealings. The panel is to submit a final report to the General Assembly by the end of the year.
Pub Date: 4/29/98