Dixon erred, office says

Council president amends financial disclosure form

ethics rules at issue

February 07, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon made a mistake by not disclosing that her sister works for a company that is regulated by city government, officials from the president's office said yesterday.

An article in The Sun on Monday revealed that Dixon had not disclosed her sister's employment with fiber optic cable firm Utech, a minority subcontractor for Comcast of Baltimore, the city's cable provider.

Baltimore's ethics laws require public officials to disclose whether siblings or other relatives work for companies that do business or are regulated by the city.

Dixon also may have run afoul of ethics rules by advocating on behalf of Utech and other firms during a council hearing last week held to determine if Comcast has honored the minority subcontracting provision of its 12-year franchise in Baltimore.

While Dixon did not admit fault yesterday, she filed an amendment to her current financial disclosure form, which covers 2004, said the Department of Legislative Reference, which maintains the forms. The amendment shows that her sister has worked for Utech since February 2004, according to Chris Williams, Dixon's spokesman, and Beatrice L. Tripps, her chief of staff.

Her sister began working for Utech three months after Dixon was forced to fire her from the city payroll after the Board of Ethics said her sibling's employment in the president's office violated ethics rules.

Dixon said yesterday that she believes her involvement in last week's hearing does not violate the ethics law.

She said last week she had disclosed her sister's employment and clarified those comments yesterday by saying she has abstained from any votes awarding contracts to Utech in her capacity as chairwoman of the city's five-member spending board controlled by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Yesterday, Dixon questioned the motives behind how the newspaper knew about her sister's employment.

"Maybe sometime what you should do ... is to find out what the motives are from people who come to you," Dixon told a reporter.

If O'Malley wins his bid to become governor in November, Dixon would automatically become mayor for a year before facing an election next year.

Dixon also noted yesterday that she did not chair the meeting last week. She was joined in her questioning of Comcast by council members Helen L. Holton, the committee's chairwoman, and Paula Johnson Branch.

During the meeting, Dixon asked Comcast if it was still employing several minority- and women-owned subcontractors. She specifically mentioned several companies, including Utech, which is certified and regulated as a minority-owned firm by the city's Minority and Women's Business Opportunity Office.

Yesterday Dixon said that she mentioned all of the companies included on a list and that that proves she was not advocating specifically for her sister's firm.

"It's normal to do this," she said of hearings to examine whether contractors meet minority hiring goals set by the city.

The city's ethics law prohibits public officials from participating in "any matter" that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer.

It says public officials must recuse themselves from participating in such matters if they have knowledge of their relative's position.

In addition, the law forbids officials from using their "prestige of office" for another person's private gain.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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