If It Ain’t Broke, etc

The Baltimore County charter currently prohibits persons who are employed by the State of Maryland or by Baltimore County from standing for election to the county council. According to the Baltimore Sun not everyone is happy.

Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina worked for a quasi-state agency, then collected a six-figure legal settlement from the government when he challenged his firing. Now Gardina, along with fellow Councilman John Olszewski Sr., want to place on the 2008 ballot a charter amendment to repeal a prohibition against council members holding state jobs.

Gardina and other county officials say they were unaware of the charter provision in 2003 when the councilman was a project manager for an agency created by the state legislature. He and Olszewski say the prohibition is antiquated and unfairly restricts who can run for the council.

Other than subordinating the collective good to personal aggrandizement it is hard to see a coherent case to be made for changing the county charter. Not only is it unseemly to see someone firmly affixed to two of the public teats it is also corrosive to the conduct of government itself.

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A public employee as a council member has an unresolvable conflict of interest on a couple of levels. The most obvious is that election to the county council is on a partisan basis and the work force at the state and county level should be perceived as nonpartisan. This is why the Hatch Act limits the political activities of federal, and some state and local, employees.

More disturbingly, it seems that even though the county charter has been around since 1956 that no one has taken time to read it.

At least two people have served on the council while working for the state.

Wayne M. Skinner, deputy director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, was a state employee throughout his tenure as a Republican County Council member from 1998 to 2002.

Gardina, who has served on the council since 1990, worked for the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency, for five months in 2003. He later sued then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration, claiming he was fired from the job because he is a Democrat. In early 2005, the administration paid him $100,000 to settle the suit.

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