Wife stays on county payroll Bachman says health leaves him no choice, despite ethics ruling

November 01, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Councilman George F. Bachman said that firing his wife would be the hardest thing he ever had to do in his position as a legislator.

So he didn't.

Eight months after the county Ethics Commission told him in an advisory opinion that it was a misuse of his authority and a conflict of interest to employ his wife as his legislative aide, the county continues to pay Anna Bachman to run Bachman's district office.

Bachman said the commission agreed not to enforce its opinion until after a doctor released him to resume legislative duties. So while he has gone through several cancer surgeries this spring and summer, he has kept his wife in the job.

Bachman's last surgery was in June and he went back to a regular work schedule in July, but he could face more surgeries in coming weeks, pending results of a recent biopsy.

Despite the advisory opinion, the Bachmans say they've done nothing wrong. In light of his health problems, they say, the arrangement has been necessary to keep serving constituents.

"I always believed that I never did anything wrong in the beginning," Bachman said by telephone from his Linthicum Heights home Friday. "I know when I asked for the opinion that they advised me strongly. But she was fully running my office and everything while I was recuperating."

The Bachmans say they kept Betsy K. Dawson, Ethics Commission executive director, informed of his surgeries.

Dawson said the commission took no steps to enforce its advisory opinion, dated Feb. 10.

"All that followed was a request to put off anything pending the council member's medical problem," Dawson said Thursday. "At this point the commission felt that the opinion served its purpose and that there was no need to pursue it further."

Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause / Maryland, a political watchdog group, said it is another case of a political official avoiding consequences for unethical behavior.

"In a way, it's simply a variation of, 'There's nothing wrong with what I do as long as nobody says it's wrong and makes me stop,' which completely abdicates the responsibility any office holder bears," Skullney said.

Bachman's employment of his wife first raised questions when newspapers reported that he approved a 6.8 percent raise for her in October 1997, making her the council's highest paid legislative aide at $50,589 a year.

In a 6-0 vote in February (Bachman abstained), the council passed a bill designed to ban nepotism, but it takes effect Dec. 7, after Bachman's term ends.

But when the Ethics Commission issued its opinion, Bachman, a Democrat, said he would comply with the opinion.

"Yes, there is a conflict; I will admit that," he said in March. "But after 47 years, how can you fire your wife? That's going to be the hardest thing for me in my political life to do."

Anna Bachman said then she would stay on as a volunteer.

Now George, 77, and Anna Bachman, 75, say she will be remain employed through the end of his term, leaving when he does. Democrat Pam Beidle faces Republican Gerald P. Starr in the race for the 1st District seat in Tuesday's election.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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