Carroll ethics panel defends its role

Commissioners seek members' resignations

January 08, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

An attorney for the Carroll ethics commission rebutted charges yesterday that the panel has misused its office, but the two county commissioners who asked the members of the ethics board to resign said they heard nothing to make them reconsider that request.

Attorney James E. Edwards Jr. repeatedly called the three ethics commission members "good people" and argued that their reputations had never been questioned before last year, when they began an investigation of Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

Edwards said that by interfering with that investigation, Gouge, not ethics commission members, has been the only person to act inappropriately during the conflict between the two boards.

Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr., who approved a Dec. 3 letter from the county attorney asking the ethics commission members to resign, said they weren't persuaded by Edwards' arguments.

The two said they would review written materials submitted by Edwards before reaching decisions about the future of the ethics panel. But they defended their votes to demand the ethics panel members' resignations and to consider redesigning the ethics board.

"A list of facts such as the ones we heard today does not always add up to the truth," Minnich said after the meeting. "I didn't hear anything that would make me consider withdrawing any of the actions we have taken."

Jones said he did not think he and Minnich had acted hastily by calling for the resignations.

"This situation has been going on and on, and I think we just want to get the politics out of the office ... and take care of it once and for all," Jones said during the meeting.

Yesterday's meeting was the first face-to-face encounter between the two boards since Minnich and Jones asked the ethics commission members to resign last month.

The letter calling for those resignations offered ethics committee members an opportunity to meet with the commissioners and answer charges that they had shown bias, violated the county's ethics code and misused their office.

The ethics panel members - Suzanne Primoff, John Harner, and James F.W. Talley, the board chairman - attended yesterday's meeting but did not speak.

Gouge, the subject of the ethics committee investigation and a related criminal investigation by the state prosecutor's office, also did not speak during the meeting.

The investigation began after contractor Charles Stambaugh complained to the ethics commission about an argument he had with Jill Gephart, the commissioner's daughter, in December 2001. Stambaugh accused Gephart of using her mother's name to try to intimidate him.

The investigation did not result in charges related to the dispute between Stambaugh and Gephart, but it unearthed other potential violations, the ethics commission said in a letter dated June 24.

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