A new ethics code for Baltimore?

Time for an ethics code that reflects Baltimore City's unethical reality

April 12, 2011|By Marta H. Mossburg

It's time to rewrite the ethics laws of Baltimore City to reflect reality. Grandiose language about trust, euphemisms like "public servants" and philosophical musings about justice are so outdated.

As a refresher, here's a sample of the code: "The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore recognizes [sic] that our system of representative government largely depends on the people's trust in their public servants.

"The citizens of Baltimore City rely on their public servants to preserve their safety, health and welfare through fair and impartial enforcement of laws, imposition of taxes, and expenditure of public funds."

Everyone knows the code of ethics is a farce. Just ask former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who collects an $83,000-per-year pension from taxpayers despite stealing gift cards from the needy and accepting lavish gifts from a developer doing business with the city. But she is only one of many examples of why the code is obsolete. Here are a few more:

•Seventeen city police officers were arrested in February in connection with an extortion scam to route business to a tow company not licensed to work for the city.

•Thirteen Department of Transportation employees were caught gambling and drinking on the job last month.

•Earlier this year, GPS tracking showed two Department of Public Works (DPW) employees spent between three and nine hours per day drinking and gambling while on duty.

•Michael Lucas, a DPW superintendent, tried to solicit drugs and sex from a 15-year-old boy and pleaded guilty last year to a fourth-degree sexual assault in connection with the incident — and kept his job.

•Child molester and former DPW employee Dennis McLaughlin collected sick pay while in prison, while his mother — who, according to an inspector general report, aided him in defrauding the city — retired and receives a full pension.

•Algie Epps was hired and promoted by the city housing department despite a criminal record that included defrauding state taxpayers as a state corrections officer.

To make the code of ethics more useful and progressive, it should require conduct recognized as "normal" among city departments. Doing so could save the city time and money by preventing arrests and expensive public relations campaigns to convince residents and tourists alike that Baltimore is a great place to live, work and play.

Here is some sample language:

New Subsection 1 – Employee Conduct

(a) Drinking and gambling on the job are allowed on paydays so long as everyone in the agency is allowed to participate. Union (AFSCME 67) rules require that everyone be given the same privileges.

(b) Drinking and gambling on non-paydays may be permitted if a position is deemed sufficiently stressful and/or work is completed for the day.

(c) Employees may not be fired for being convicted of molesting children, attempting to molest children, drug offenses and/or theft while employed by the city unless the media finds out about it. For those employees whose convictions are exposed by the media, their cases will be examined on an individual basis.

(d) Accepting bribes to flout the law is permissible so long as the money is shared with fellow employees. Likewise, using city equipment for personal use is also acceptable so long as proceeds are spread throughout the agency. (See (a) re: union regulations.)

(e) Re: matters not addressed by this subsection; if "everybody is doing it," then consider it permissible. Items in this subsection could include using sick days for vacation, leaving early, using city vehicles for personal use and filling them up at city filling stations.

None of the above suggestions are meant to suggest that taxpayers can avoid their obligations. As always, their homes may be confiscated for not paying water bills or property taxes more than twice the rate of other jurisdictions in the state. They must accept higher parking rates to finance "free" but barely used public transportation; daily construction gridlock on Pratt Street to welcome the Indy 500 to Baltimore for one weekend a year; and a school system the majority of whose graduates do not know basic arithmetic or how to write an essay.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is martamossburg@gmail.com.

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