The Carroll commissioners pushed forward yesterday a revamped county ethics code that would bring back an ethics commission, subject more officials to ethics guidelines and provide a clear blueprint for investigations of possible violations.
The commissioners said they felt comfortable with the proposed code, which was submitted by a task force they appointed in March. They called the document more comprehensive, more detailed and more fair than the existing code, and they voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on it next month.
The commissioners will vote on a final version of the document as soon as 10 days after the hearing.
"It seems like it's going to be a fair and open situation for everyone," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "That's the most important thing. People need to know that they're going to be treated fairly in this process."
A yearlong investigation of Gouge spurred the commissioners to call for changes in the code. Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. accused the previous ethics commission of conducting a political witch hunt against Gouge, who is serving her fourth term.
The commissioners disbanded the panel in February. Accusations of ethics violations against Gouge remain under investigation by state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. That inquiry is "wrapping up," Montanarelli's lead investigator, James Cabezas, said yesterday.
The most significant proposed change in the ethics code would give the county a six-member ethics panel appointed by the commissioners. The commissioners would also designate one of those members to be a chief administrator, or "ethics officer." The administrator would handle the panel's routine business and would conduct investigations of ethics complaints but would not have a vote on those matters.
The new document also includes a step-by-step explanation of how the ethics commission should conduct investigations. The existing code includes no such description, and critics said the old panel took advantage of that to pursue investigations however it pleased.