Speedy ethics rulings

Anne Arundel: Council members want agency to work faster without needed resources.

July 18, 2000

ANNE ARUNDEL County needs a full-time ethics commission staff if it wants faster rulings on wrongdoing by public officials.

That became clear after Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. admitted violating county ethics laws by lobbying county administrators and his colleagues on behalf of an accounting client.

Councilwoman Shirley Murphy called Mr. Klosterman's actions "stupid" and complained that the ethics commission's probe into Mr. Klosterman's actions took too long.

If delays are a problem, the county can put an end to them by beefing up the commission.

Betsy K. Dawson works part time as the ethics commission's executive director. The commission keeps 3,500 county employees honest.

In addition to investigating potential conflicts of interest, Ms. Dawson collects and maintains financial disclosure forms from county officials and board members and records of lobbying activity done in the county. She also responds to more than 200 requests for advice each year.

The investigation of Mr. Klosterman's activities kept Ms. Dawson's tiny operation -- herself and a part-time assistant -- busy for 17 months, from February 1999 until a consent order was released Tuesday.

The commission reprimanded Mr. Klosterman for improperly lobbying for TGMI Contractors Inc., which is building an addition to the county's Parole jail and unsuccessfully pursued work at county-owned Tipton Airport.

The probe of the County Council president's actions produced the right conclusion.

If council members believe protracted ethics investigations are a problem, they need to work with County Executive Janet S. Owens and give Ms. Dawson more investigative resources to generate faster results.

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