County auditor might face ethics charges

Rowe accuses officials of trying to `smear' him

March 20, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

Baltimore County officials are contemplating filing ethics charges against the longtime county auditor, who announced his resignation last week amid a policy dispute with the administration, an administration official said yesterday.

Auditor Brian J. Rowe said the county's pension plan for former state employees, including himself, was a factor in his decision to leave. Rowe said yesterday he is prepared to sue the county over the plan, and he accused officials of trying to "smear" him.

Administration officials accused Rowe of misleading the County Council in his research on a bill that would have enhanced the pensions.

The county's pension plan allows employees to count their years with the state along with their years with the county. The county takes out a percentage of the pension based on the notion that those employees made no contributions to the county's pension fund during their years with the state.

The bill would have required the county to deduct a smaller percentage.

Council members withdrew the bill last month after administration officials raised concerns about the cost.

"You can't reduce a benefit based on some hypothetical interest earnings," Rowe said.

Fred J. Homan, the county's administrative officer, accused Rowe of reporting to the council that the bill would not increase county expenses, while, Homan said, it would add significant expenses. He also faulted Rowe, who as auditor works for the council, for not disclosing in his research that he, as a former state employee, stood to benefit from the proposed changes.

The county attorney is considering filing a complaint with the county ethics commission, said Homan, the top appointed official in County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s administration.

Rowe, who will leave at the end of the month after 12 years on the job, said in his statement that the bill would have no fiscal impact. His statement was based on his belief that the county's pension plan is illegal, based on a report from the attorney general that supports his position, he said.

"If you're asking me to put something in a fiscal note that says, `If we can't rob banks, it's going to cost us money,' I can't do that," said Rowe, 60. "It's not supposed to cost the county money to comply with the law."

Councilmen Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, and John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, questioned the point of an ethics complaint against Rowe.

"What's that going to prove?" Olszewski said. "At the end of the day, he's resigned from the county."

Homan said that the pension plan was adopted in the 1990s based on a recommendation from a consultant and that it is fair to employees.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he has asked the county budget director for an analysis of the fiscal impact of the proposed changes.

"If somebody's pension is being increased, there's a fiscal impact to us," Moxley said. "And the note from the auditor's office did state that there was no fiscal impact. I'm not sure why, and it's something that we will eventually get to the bottom of."josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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