Concerned by reports of apparent ethics violations by a council member, Anne Arundel County officials called for clearer ethics guidelines, with one council member suggesting the council undergo "ethics training."
Reacting to an article yesterday in The Sun that said fellow council member Dan E. Klosterman Jr. led two council discussions in May that involved his client, despite an earlier warning from the county ethics commission, Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk said that all the members need to review and study the county's ethics code.
It can often be confusing and ambiguous, she said, especially to newly elected members.
She said the council has already made plans to meet with the director of the ethics commission in January.
"When you're elected and have never been an elected officer before, like many of us on the council now, you don't fully appreciate the magnitude of the change in the way you conduct business," Samorajczyk said.
"What this points out is that we need ethics training so we don't do something ignorantly when we aren't fully aware of the law."
Klosterman led budgethearings with two county agencies seeking funding without disclosing he may have had a conflict of interest.
One of Klosterman's accounting clients, TGMI Contractors of Cockeysville, in February had expressed interest in a contract with the Tipton Airport Authority. The company also held a $16 million contract with the county to renovate its detention center in Annapolis.
Despite a warning from the ethics commission that he should excuse himself from budget discussions with any county department doing business with his client, Klosterman led the hearing with the airport authority and the Department of Public Works, which was overseeing the work at the detention center.
Klosterman said he did not read the warning with that understanding at the time, but said he would refrain from leading such discussions in the future.
For his fellow members, who yesterday said they felt strongly Klosterman's actions weren't malicious as much as careless, the incident has brought about a "period of heightened focus."
"The ethics rules are sometimes not as obvious as they seem to be," said Councilman John Klocko. "[Klosterman] has been very diligent on ethics issues throughout the past year, and while he seems to have crossed the line, I think he has learned from it. We all have."
He said it is often difficult for the members, almost all of whom own their own business, to see when they may be in a murky ethical situation with the dozens of clients, business partners and associates they work with that are in business with the county.
"If you work and do business in Anne Arundel County," he said, "you will at some point have some crossover. It can often be a very gray area."
Klocko said the experience has made him take a closer look at his client list, while Samorajczyk said she has realized now she will have to refrain from commenting on budget matters concerning the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, on whose board she sits.
The ethics commission is likely to review the tapes of the budget hearings to see if they are in conflict of its written warning to Klosterman not to "participate in legislative activity."
Yesterday, County Executive Janet S. Owens joined in the call for a new look at the ethics regulations and business relationships.
"We all have to recognize the constraints placed on us as elected officials and try not to cross the line that separates our public and private lives," she said.