Political Theater – Ethics
Frederick, oh Frederick. As a citizen of Frederick it sometimes feels as if I have a front row seat to a political theater. Frederick is front and center again. Not for its accomplishments, but for its recent “discussions” about ethics. Many people will agree when I say that politics and ethics rarely can be said in the same sentence without laughing. This time is no different.
Frederick recently passed Charter Government which establishes Councty Council Members and an Executive vs County Commissioners. The difference is that in Charter Government the Council only handles legislative issues and the Executive handles the running of the County vs in Commissioner form the Commissioners do both.
Previously in Commissioner Government, Frederick County Ethics board advised that Commissioners were not allowed to personally bid on contracted work with the County. The reason being is that the Commissioners were the ones that approved the bids. This would create a conflict of interest and allow Commissioners to profit from County work (insider trading essentially). With the newly formed Charter Government the ethics board, mainly appointed by County Executive Jan Gardner, changed the opinion and stated since the Council only handles legislative functions and not actual County Business, that Council Members were allowed to bid and win County contracts.
Frederick has two Council Members that are contractors, Tony Chmelik and Kirby Delauter.
County Executive Jan Gardner not only disagreed with the Ethic Board’s opinion but issued the first ever Executive Order in Frederick County baring the ability for Council Members to bid on County work. Gardner and Council President Bud Otis went further in issuing a public statement, stating that they lost confidence in the commission’s ability to interpret the ethics ordinance and make rulings that assure the public that county decisions are made without a conflict of interest. In response, three of the Ethic Board members resigned citing that Gardner and Otis chose to make a media campaign of personal attacks and misinformation.
Many view Gardner’s actions as a personal attack on Council Member Kirby Delauter. There are many that also view this as “double talk” as the current Council has two Members that are County Teachers, Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater and Councilman Jerry Donald. The argument is that since the Teachers are Members of the Council, they have the ability to vote themselves favorable positions within the budget. Both Teachers are part of the Teacher’s Union which has a large role during contract negotiations with the County Board of Education, which receives 47% of their budget from County funding.