Toothless tiger Anne Arundel: After Bachman balked on removing wife from payroll, ethics panel yawned.

November 10, 1998

BY KEEPING his wife on his taxpayer-funded payroll eight months after promising to remove her, Anne Arundel County Councilman George F. Bachman demonstrated the feebleness of the county ethics commission.

Last February, the commission issued an advisory opinion that Mr. Bachman's hiring of his wife, Anna, to run his council office was a misuse of authority and a conflict of interest. At the time, Mr. Bachman said he would "fire" his wife even though it would be the most difficult task he would ever do.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Bachman's health deteriorated, requiring hospitalization and extensive recuperation. Mr. Bachman informed the commission of his medical problems. To continue serving constituents, Mr. Bachman said his wife would remain on the council payroll until he recovered. It now appears that Mrs. Bachman will remain on the payroll until her husband's term ends next month.

The ethics commission, whose seven members are appointed by the county executive and approved by the council, can issue strongly worded opinions on ethical situations involving elected officials and employees. It has, however, scant enforcement power. A person can choose to ignore these advisories, and, as Mr. Bachman illustrates, some do.

Elected officials take a risk in ignoring the commission because voters do not look kindly on those who behave unethically.

However, Mr. Bachman could not, by law, run for a third term anyway. His case reveals another downside of term limits. Not only do they force out good representatives prematurely, the limit allows politicians to act with less regard to voters once they've secured their second and final term.

Should this situation arise again, the council should vote to endorse the commission's findings. That way, a council member would be ignoring not just the commission but his colleagues as well.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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