County leaders present wish list

Subpoena power sought for ethics commission

`Ideas to get you thinking'

Age limits at bingo games, road projects proposed

September 13, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A rough draft of the Carroll commissioners' legislative wish list for next year's General Assembly session includes a provision that would grant new powers to the county ethics commission.

The proposals, unveiled yesterday by lawyers for the county, show that the commissioners might ask the Carroll legislative delegation to submit a bill that would give the three-member ethics commission the authority to compel witnesses to testify. The commissioners are also considering proposals to seek authority to adopt improved retirement and benefits plans for county employees and to request state money for road projects.

"This is just a rough list, just ideas to get you thinking," Kim Millender, county attorney, told commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier yesterday. "We will continue to work on it to see what other proposals you might want."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge is on a brief vacation and did not attend the meeting.

Both Dell and Frazier lost their re-election bids this week and will leave office in December, but they could have a say in requests made to the county's Annapolis delegation. The commissioners normally vote on their legislative ideas and submit them to the delegation in late fall. Legislators traditionally schedule a public hearing on the proposals early in January soon after the session begins.

In addition to the annual bond bill to fund county projects, the commissioners would like the county to be given the authority to pay for several road projects in anticipation of state reimbursement. They would also like legislative approval to offer an investment program for fire and rescue workers.

The board is considering the bill that would give the three-member ethics commission subpoena power because the commission say it needs the legal authority to force witnesses to testify.

"Subpoena power is important to our work and the courts can oversee any abuse of that," said James F.W. Talley, ethics commission chairman. "Without it, we are a paper tiger, dependent on the good will of people we call as witnesses."

One recent case involved allegations that Gouge's daughter, Jill Gebhart, used her mother's name as leverage in a dispute with a contractor, and that Gouge used her position as county commissioner to help Gebhart establish a business. The ethics commission could not compel Gebhart to testify. No wrongdoing was discovered and the case was dropped.

In response to complaints from several residents, the commissioners are considering a minimum age requirement for attendance at bingo games.

A request that would allow the county to donate to charity surplus property valued at as much as $1,000 will be also be discussed. The current ceiling is $100.

The list may be far from complete. Dell said yesterday he would add a proposal that would allow the county to take over from the state responsibilities for environmental health issues, such as those related to wells, septic systems and construction. He said adding these duties to the county building department would make for a more efficient operation.

Frazier said she would like legislation drafted to discourage frivolous lawsuits against the county by forcing plaintiffs to pay all court costs and possibly the county's legal fees. Millender said she would have a more refined list of proposals to the commissioners within about two weeks.

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