December 02, 2007

County ethics law should be tougher

I was pleased to read in a recent article ("Call Renewed on Ethics," The Sun, Nov. 16) that some Anne Arundel County Council members are calling for strengthening the county's ethics laws. The issue was raised because Joseph W. Rutter Jr., until last December the county's top planning official, is now both a development company executive and a paid consultant on the county's once-in-a-decade General Development Plan update.

As a consultant to the county department he once headed, Mr. Rutter will assist with the analysis of land development and use plans.

Based on its interpretation of current law, the county's Ethics Commission gave the go-ahead for Mr. Rutter to help plan its future land use. But can an executive with a commercial land development company really be independent and objective?

Private companies typically require executives and professionals to agree to "non-compete" clauses in their employment contracts. The county law should be revised to prohibit former county executives and professionals from consulting on programs in areas they formerly led, for at least a year after they leave office.

One reason for the regrettably low election turnouts in our democracy - from local to national - is the well-publicized trend of the public losing faith in elected officials. County legislators should take the modest step in revising the ethics standards to help preserve whatever trust the voters still have.

David Bikle Annapolis

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