Two members of the Anne Arundel County Council have been urged by the county ethics commission to abstain from voting on the most hotly debated of the proposed changes to the county charter.
Council members Cathleen M. Vitale and Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. should sit out a vote on whether a charter amendment to allow binding arbitration to settle labor contract disputes should go to referendum, according to the ethics commission.
Vitale is married to county firefighter Mark A. Muckelbauer, and Klosterman has a nephew who is a firefighter.
The binding arbitration provision, approved by a 3-2 vote by the county Charter Revision Commission, is opposed by County Executive Janet S. Owens and her administration, who argue that an outsider should not be allowed to determine employee salaries that taxpayers would have to pay.
Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk said council members may introduce separate resolutions for each of the public safety unions - one each for police, fire and the detention center - in order to lessen the impact of the ethics commission ruling, which was released by Director Betsy K. Dawson this month.
"If we introduce three different resolutions, at least they could vote on the issue," Samorajczyk said.
If both members abide by the ethics commission recommendation, the outcome of the vote concerning the fire union could be affected, Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, said yesterday.
As a result, firefighters could wind up the only public safety union in the county not covered by the provision, she said, adding, "That's not right."
Five votes from the seven-member council are needed to place a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot.
Klosterman said he hopes he can persuade the ethics commission to reverse its decision. If he fails, he won't vote, he said. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, requested the ethics opinion. She declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.
Klosterman, a Democrat from Millersville, said he was frustrated by the opinion, arguing that his nephew's position in the department should not matter because the council is voting only on whether the matter should go to referendum - and not deciding whether it would become law.
"I think they are absolutely wrong," he said. "They are taking away my right to do one thing, and that is voting to put [the issue] on the ballot and let the people decide."
In a letter informing council members of the opinion, Dawson advised Vitale and Klosterman not to vote on the fire union issue because their relatives might benefit from the vote.
"Your vote may put the issue on the ballot, or it may kill the proposed amendments," she wrote. "Either way, the outcome will impact the firefighters' union."
She also wrote: "The interest of your [relatives] in the business of the fire department extends at the very least to matters affecting [their] salary, pension, conditions of employment, and matters of general concern to the firefighters' union."
Keith W. Wright, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Fire Fighters union, said that he will ask the ethics commission, members of which are appointed by Owens, to reconsider the matter at its next regular meeting June 10.