Council moves to appoint ethics panel members

Power to name officials lies solely with executive

Anne Arundel

August 04, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

A move to strip the Anne Arundel county executive of sole authority to appoint members to the county's ethics commission has come under fire from a nonprofit watchdog group as an attempt to further politicize the commission.

Four County Council members - including two who were recently barred from voting on an issue by the commission - have proposed expanding the panel from seven to nine members, allowing two appointments for the county executive and one each for the seven council members.

The commissioners' terms would run concurrent with those of the officials who appointed them, instead of in staggered four-year terms as they do now.

"It would turn the commission into a creature of the council," warned James Browning, director of Common Cause/Maryland, which pushed for creation of the commission in 1992. "It would politicize the commission dangerously."

If the resolution passes at tomorrow's council meeting, voters would decide in the November election on the changes to the commission, which rules on ethics questions regarding county officials and employees.

The resolution's sponsors - Council members Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., Pamela G. Beidle, Cathleen M. Vitale and Barbara D. Samorajczyk - say the bill is intended to make the commission less political.

Because of resignations from the commission, County Executive Janet S. Owens has appointed all of the current members, who have reviewed several complaints about her conduct in recent months.

"The composition of the ethics commission should not be controlled by a single person," Samorajczyk said. "You would want a mechanism to have the appointments made by more than one person to make sure that one person cannot control the commission. ... It removes any appearance of impropriety."

Browning questions the timing of the proposal, which follows a decision by the commission to bar Klosterman and Vitale from voting on a binding arbitration measure for firefighters because they have family members in the field. That measure - which also would go to referendum if approved - is expected to come up for a vote tomorrow.

Klosterman said his experience before the commission made him concerned about the appointment process, but said the move is not intended as a "witch hunt" to get back at commission members.

"It made me think about how can we make the commission more responsive, not to myself, but to the citizens," he said.

Owens' spokesman, Matt Diehl, said the county executive opposes the attempt to overhaul the commission and noted that appointments must be approved by the council.

"She has worked very hard to ensure that the ethics commission is immune from political intervention," Diehl said.

That will never happen, Browning said, because members will always be appointed by politicians. But allowing the say of seven more politicians would "make the problem seven times worse."

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