County council chairman may face ethics inquiry

Commission to review discussions from 1999

March 24, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The county ethics commission is apparently investigating County Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. for possible ethics violations stemming from council discussions he led last year involving one of his accounting clients.

Klosterman confirmed yesterday that Betsy K. Dawson, the commission's executive director, has requested to meet with him. His attorney, Michael T. Gilligan, has been in touch with the commission, he said.

The commission does not comment on the existence of investigations, which are confidential unless a violation is found. The group's powers are limited: It could reprimand Klosterman, tell him not to repeat the violation or ask a Circuit Court judge to impose a $1,000 fine. He could not be removed from office.

Klosterman, a Millersville Democrat, said he would be glad to meet with Dawson and "get it cleared up" -- preferably after the April 15 income tax filing deadline, when he will have more time. But he also expressed frustration that his integrity is being questioned.

"I spent 30 years of my life building a reputation around here, and everybody who knows me knows what kind of person I am," he said. "Now I am going to have to defend myself against somebody's comment. That's sad."

In May, Klosterman led budget hearings 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, had expressed interest last month in a contract with 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 understand the warning but would refrain from leading such discussions in the future.

Yesterday, he said he did not think he violated the ethics law.

"I'm not saying I didn't make a mistake," he said, adding that the hearings occurred early in his first term. "You learn a lot since then about what's ethical and what isn't."

If the commission thinks "sufficient evidence" exists to hold a hearing, Klosterman will be able to defend himself behind closed doors. Then the commission will decide if a violation occurred.

After the revelations about Klosterman surfaced in December, council members set up training sessions with Dawson to ensure they understood the ethics law.

But plans to modify the law have gone slowly. Councilwoman Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat, has wanted to toughen the law since before she was elected in 1998.

Among her suggestions: allowing the commission to fine transgressors $1,000 rather than leaving that to the court. "Everybody will be more aware and more careful," Murphy said.

The commission, an independent agency created by voters in 1992, would like the law to apply to Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp., a quasi-public entity that receives taxpayer money. County Executive Janet S. Owens opposes the proposal.

The development corporation came under scrutiny last year after The Sun reported that four board members had financial interests in five companies that received agency loans since 1993. The corporation has since added ethical conduct rules, but Dawson said the ethics commission does not believe "internal oversight" is enough.

The council is expected to consider changes to the 30-page ethics law, but probably not until after work ends on the budget in late May.

"It's not being dropped," said Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat. "It's an arduous process."

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