Looking for Dixon's ethics

Conflicts: Council president's shenanigans make her dubious material for continued leadership.

April 13, 2001

CAN YOU spell "conflict of interest"?

Sheila Dixon can't. Or won't. Or maybe it's that her colleagues in city government have yet to spell it for her.

Ms. Dixon, you'll remember, was the public servant who insisted upon keeping her taxpayer-subsidized job with the state even after she was elected president of the Baltimore City Council, another taxpayer-subsidized job. You could say she likes to have two hands on your wallet.

FOR THE RECORD - Correction
An editorial in yesterday's Sun should have identified Dale G. Clark as Sheila Dixon's campaign chairman. The Sun regrets the error.

Now we learn that Ms. Dixon is even more ethically challenged: Since her election, she has arranged for her campaign manager to make more than $100,000 off the city in no-bid contract work.

Someone soon needs to sit down with Ms. Dixon and explain that leadership is about personal sacrifice and commitment -- not personal gain. Or here's a wild idea: Why doesn't the City Council enact guidelines that might prevent these dubious pursuits?

Ms. Dixon and the contractor, Dale G. Clark, offer all of the typical false pleas in response to the latest charges of impropriety. He's doing good work. He's being paid market rate. He's "saving the city money" by not charging for all of his work.

Not the point.

He ran her campaign and then almost immediately experienced a windfall of city work. Ms. Dixon bypassed an existing, competitively bid contract to help Mr. Clark. And betraying his guilty conscience, Mr. Clark resigned as Ms. Dixon's campaign manager once a Sun reporter starting asking about this issue.

This doesn't just look like a payback; the conflict is clear, and galling.

Ms. Dixon's shaky ethical pattern is particularly troublesome because of her rising political star. The 13-year council veteran easily won the president's seat in 1999, and is being eyed as a potential mayoral candidate someday.

She has been on the right side of several issues since taking on the leadership role. She agrees that the council's structure could use tweaking (we say downsizing) and she just recently co-sponsored a bill to allow same-sex partners to register with city government as domestic partners.

But ethics matter as much as good political sense. Ms. Dixon has had two opportunities to show off her moral mettle, and has instead revealed what look more like serious character flaws.

The council president had better straighten up before voters teach her to spell another word: unelectable.

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