Dixon keeps city and state government jobs despite ruling that they are conflict of interest

June 15, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Despite a State Ethics Commission ruling that her state and city government jobs present a conflict of interest, City Council President Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she will keep both positions.

Dixon, who collects $109,000 a year from two public jobs, said she made her decision after gaining the support of her state boss, Richard C. "Mike" Lewin, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, who wrote a letter to the ethics commission on her behalf.

Lewin wrote the letter proposing six steps that he says would ensure that Dixon's city and state interests don't collide, including prohibiting her from representing city-based companies in her position as a senior trade representative for the state.

"We are confident that there was no conflict, but we don't even want an appearance of conflict," Lewin said. "We want to do what is right for the public and taxpayers."

Dixon is paid $80,000 annually as the full-time leader of the 19-member City Council and is paid at a rate of $56,000 a year in her part-time state job. She cut her state work and pay in half after taking the top council post in December.

Dixon, who requested the ethics commission ruling after being elected council president, said Lewin's support was key to her decision to keep both jobs.

The state duties, which include working with 20 or 30 companies as clients, don't interfere with her city duties as leader of the council, she said.

"I work a lot of hours," said Dixon, a council member for 13 years.

Last month, the ethics commission noted that about 20 percent of the companies Dixon works with are from Baltimore.

In its advisory opinion, the State Ethics Commission wrote, "The city and its citizens have substantial and significant interactions" with the state economic development office. The panel also said Dixon's "dual employment would be inconsistent with prohibitions [in] the public ethics law."

The city and the state have myriad connections, economic and otherwise, the commission noted.

"It would thus be anticipated that [Dixon] would have a role in a variety of fiscal and spending matters in which the city would be collaborating with the state," the commission said.

John O'Donnell, executive director of the commission, said he could not discuss or acknowledge Dixon's case.

The executive director of a public advocacy group that supports tougher ethics laws, Common Cause/Maryland, scoffed at Dixon's decision, saying the jobs are a "classic conflict of interest."

"What was the point?" Kathleen S. Skullney, the group's executive director, said of Dixon's request for an ethics commission ruling. "In both instances, the public has separate but unequal rights to unbiased representation. We have interests in both jobs being done right."

Lewin said the steps proposed by his department would address that concern.

In addition to prohibiting Dixon from representing city companies, Lewin said, the state would also restrict her computer access, prohibit her from attending certain trade meetings involving city matters, refer companies with ties to Baltimore to other representatives and ensure that she has no state grant-making responsibilities.

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