Ethical blinders

October 05, 2003

LESS THAN A MONTH after the City Council primary, and the bad old days are back. Promises to end business as usual have already been forgotten.

Even while the council is ostensibly going about the business of plugging loopholes in the city's ethics law covering all municipal employees, council members are clueless, blind or worse about their own breaches of ethical conduct.

When the city's ethics board disclosed Thursday that it is considering an amendment that would allow City Council incumbents to continue employing family members already on the public payroll, the prospect was greeted with audible sighs of relief.

"I think in some cases the grandfather clause is fair, in particular in regard to areas where it could affect someone's livelihood," said City Council President Sheila Dixon, who hired her sister as a part-time aide.

If grandfathering meant allowing council members to employ their grandfathers, we might take a benign view of it. But Ms. Dixon is shamelessly advocating that the widespread nepotism tainting City Hall be allowed to continue indefinitely.

How is that fair to taxpayers? Why should they be responsible for supporting her relatives?

Two other council members employ siblings, an apparent violation of existing ethics rules; six have put their adult children on the payroll, and one hired his mother-in-law. Thus, a majority of the 19 members are feathering their nests at city expense. Surely all could have found employees as competent or more so within their constituencies.

This is an odious practice that must be abolished when the current council term ends after the November 2004 general election and the council is reorganized. A year should be plenty of time for those relatives to find jobs elsewhere. Incumbents seeking re-election would be smart to shake up the payroll long before then.

Council members should have been embarrassed, at the very least, when the extent of their nepotism was revealed in July, by reporter Doug Donovan in The Sun - yet they continue their brazen defense of nepotism.

That should raise red flags among Baltimoreans. Just how low is this gang going to go?

Their contemptible attitude underscores the need for Baltimore to have stricter ethics rules. The clearer they are and the fewer exceptions they contain, the better they will work.

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