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From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner

(3/2017) I am proud that Frederick County has the strongest ethics laws in the State of Maryland. When I ran to serve as Frederick County’s first County Executive, I promised to restore trust in government. Citizens deserve to know what their government is doing and to be assured that decisions are being made in the best interest of the public.

Working together, we have strengthened our ethics laws to make clear that county officials cannot do business with the county or profit from their position. We have restored criminal penalties for serious ethics violations that were eliminated by the prior administration. We provided the Ethics Commission with additional investigative powers and we prohibited retaliation to protect those who file justified complaints.

My administration has successfully cleared the air in county government, ended the perception of "pay to play", and the influence of special interest money. We have accomplished this in large part due to the work of a citizen-based Ethics Task Force that reviewed the county’s ethics ordinance, provided expert advice, and recommended changes. With the support of the County Council, we have adopted stronger ethics laws. In fact, we are the only county in the State with an independent nominating process for the appointment of members to the Ethics Commission.

Strong ethics is a work-in-progress. That’s why I have recently introduced additional steps to ensure the public trust by prohibiting new rezoning requests during the six months prior and three months after an election. This separates politics from land use decisions and prevents the rush of re-zoning decisions seen in 2014 under the prior administration.

Working with the Ethics Task Force, the non-partisan League of Women Voters, and others, the county advanced stronger ethics legislation to our delegation in Annapolis. The measure we proposed would require Planning Commission members running for county offices to disclose ex parte communications and prohibit campaign contributions during the pendency of a land use request. This was a strong proposal that closed an existing loophole and addressed a real problem in our ethics provisions.

Unfortunately the county bill to Annapolis was hijacked by the delegation and replaced with a weak ethics bill with little chance to pass due to legal and implementation issues. This new delegation bill proposes mandatory provisions that apply only to some county officials but not to our state delegation. Why? Good ethics laws should apply evenly and fairly to all elected officials and candidates for office.

Some have asked why I have not supported the bill proposed by Senator Hough. The answer is simple. It is a bad bill.

First, it has legal issues. The State Attorney General’s office issued a five page opinion raising concerns about constitutionality and indicating that a court would likely find at least one provision to be unconstitutional. I cannot support a bill that violates our Constitution.

Second, the bill requires volunteers serving on over sixty county boards and commissions to resign if they decide to run for a county office. Then, it further requires a former volunteer board member who becomes a candidate to report certain campaign contributions "instantly" within 7 business days. No other non-incumbent candidate would face these requirements. This is uneven and unfair.

Most important, good ethics legislation requires a public process with integrity. Hough’s bill was written in secret, behind closed doors, with no public input. It deserves some sunlight and a fully vetted public process by the citizens of Frederick County including our Ethics Commission and Ethics Task Force. That is how good government works.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Frederick County, no ethics laws will likely pass this state legislative session. Politics has gotten in the way of good government.

I suspect this debate was entirely about providing those with an interest in running for County Executive an opportunity to accuse me of wrongdoing and not supporting ethics. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never accepted campaign money from anyone while they had business before the county. And, I have changed public policy to prohibit the taxpayer giveaways of the prior administration. County residents will no longer provide taxpayer subsidies through TIFs to residential developers as Blaine Young, Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve did to the tune of $140 million. Taxpayer giveaways have come to an end. I will always protect taxpayers. Senator Hough’s bill would not prohibit or change anything I have ever done related to campaign finance.

I am proud to stand for strong ethics laws for all elected officials. I am proud to have restored trust in county government and delivered honest and open government.

I value the trust the citizens of Frederick County have placed in me and I pledge to never violate that trust. Citizens deserve elected officials who meet the highest standard of conduct.

Read other articles from Frederick County Government Officials