Ethics panel finds Owens broke no law

Ad photos with officers not endorsement, it says

July 25, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission has found that County Executive Janet S. Owens didn't break any laws when she used photos of herself with uniformed police and public safety officials in a televised campaign ad.

Republicans who want to unseat Owens in the November general election had criticized the ad, saying the photos suggested that Owens had the endorsement of law enforcement unions. No such endorsements have been officially announced.

Members of the Ethics Commission - appointed by Owens, a Millersville Democrat - said in an opinion released yesterday that the use of "archival photographs" in campaign literature to describe the activities of an incumbent during her term in office "does not violate the public ethics law."

Commission members added that while the "possibility exists that the pictures of the county executive standing with public safety officers may appear to be an endorsement by those officers or their departments ... the possibility is remote."

County code prohibits the use of title or authority for private gain by an elected official or employee.

Republican candidate Tom Angelis, a Davidsonville resident who teaches school in Baltimore, asked the commission this month to investigate the matter. He said that while he was disappointed with the finding, he was not surprised.

"I am not sure that I agree that, just because the photo was taken from the archives, that it is acceptable," Angelis said. "It is how you use the picture."

Angelis and Phillip D. Bissett, a Mayo resident and former state delegate who is also seeking the Republican nomination, have compared the Owens ad to a brochure distributed by former County Executive John Gary during the 1998 election.

Gary's brochure featured a photo of him with uniformed police officers. Owens, then a candidate, criticized Gary for using the photo. At the time, Gary said he assumed the officers who posed for the photo were doing so on their own time, but they were not. The Ethics Commission found he violated county ethics laws.

An Owens campaign spokesman yesterday expressed relief that the ethics probe was over.

"It vindicates what we said all along," said Michael F. Gilligan, a Glen Burnie attorney who is co-chairman of Owens' re-election campaign.

"We didn't go out and solicit anyone to line up," he said, referring to comparisons by Republicans to the Gary brochure. "This whole thing was frivolous."

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