Three days after being accused of trying to thwart an investigation of one of its members, the Carroll board of commissioners floated yesterday a proposal to turn over current county ethics probes to an outside party.
The commissioners have scheduled discussion for today on possible changes to the ordinance governing the county ethics panel.
Those changes could include suspending the current panel's operations and handing over current investigations to the state or another agency outside county government, said Frank Johnson, an aide to Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, board president.
The commissioners and the ethics panel are locked into a dispute that includes charges and countercharges of making politically motivated decisions.
They have demanded the resignations of all three members of the county ethics panel. But the members have refused to step down and have questioned whether the commissioners have the legal authority to carry out their threat to fire them.
The ethics commission also charged that a member of the county attorney's office, acting on behalf of an unnamed commissioner, improperly seized files belonging to the commission, which has been investigating Gouge for the past year. The state prosecutor's office has also launched inquiries regarding alleged ethics violations by Gouge.
Johnson said the dispute has reached the point that the county ethics panel has lost all credibility.
"We are not certain that just changing members on the ethics board is enough," Johnson said. "It really comes down to trust in government. Is there anybody here who can handle the investigation and not have it questioned?"
Commissioner Dean L. Minnich agreed.
"We are looking for a way to make sure that everybody has faith in the process and to take away the political overtones now and forever," Minnich said.
In the letter demanding the resignations, the commissioners said that they were willing to meet with the ethics board. At the ethics panel's request, the commissioners scheduled a meeting for Thursday to allow ethics panel members to contest allegations of incompetence, misuse of office and "bias" in their work.
"I have not heard about the meeting, but I will make it a priority to be there," James F.W. Talley, ethics commission chairman, said yesterday.