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Emmitsburg Ethics Commission acknowledges investigation underway

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

(12/11/2004) Ted Brennan, chair of the Emmitsburg Ethics Commission, acknowledged this week that the commission is conducting an investigation, but he would not release information about who is being investigated or why.

Brennan responded to questions raised by town Commission President Bill O'Neil at Monday's town meeting regarding concerns that the person or people under investigation have not been notified of the complaint.

Mayor Jim Hoover late Wednesday sent The Gazette an e-mail, which read that the Ethics Commission plans to interview two people on Dec. 14 and two people on Dec. 15. Meetings with the two subjects of the investigation will then be scheduled.

Brennan said at Monday's meeting that the Ethics Commission's meetings are largely closed sessions, though they begin as meetings open to the public. They are closed shortly after opening, however, so witnesses can communicate their information privately.

He said those who may be affected would be contacted and interviewed on the matter, but everything is being kept private at this time, based on attorney John Clapp's advice.

After the meeting, Brennan said he received two complaints, one directly, and one forwarded to him through the town office.

O'Neil said he was bothered that the commission's meetings are closed.

"Looking into someone smacks of a witch hunt, and the problem with this process is that no one -- not the commissioners, not the mayor, not the town staff, not the public who elected us -- has any information on this," he said. "You state that you hope that there are not public meetings. I state that there must be public meetings."

Brennan then asked if O'Neil wanted him to make the complaints public, and O'Neil urged him to do so. He did not.

Brennan said the complaints that led to the investigation could be incorrect, and he is "trying to ... protect the innocent."

Robert Hahn, the state Ethics Commission's general counsel, said Wednesday that the state is not involved in Emmitsburg's ethics matter, nor is it normally involved in town ethics matters.

But when the state Ethics Commission receives a complaint, it by law informs the person under investigation "promptly" after a bonafide complaint is received.

A bonafide complaint is in writing and signed under penalty of perjury, or signed before a notary stating the complaint is true.

Investigations are always conducted in closed session, Hahn said, to protect the parties. The names of the person submitting the complaint and the person or persons who are the subject of the complaint may not be released publicly unless the parties waive their right to confidentiality, or unless violations of a criminal nature are discovered, he said.

Municipal processes may differ in some ways, Hahn added, but generally must abide by the confidentiality requirements.

At Monday's meeting O'Neil said he suspects a report will be prepared by the commission that will "say what the people who have cast the aspersions want it to say. ... Now I'm hoping this is not the case, and that an official organ of the Emmitsburg government will not be used to malign people's reputations."

O'Neil implied the investigation may be about him in some way when he told Brennan he would use any legal recourse necessary to defend himself.

"There is no witch hunt here," Brennan responded. "This is simple government activity that I was called upon -- and the committee members that serve with our committee have been asked to do -- by the mayor and by the town council," he said.

O'Neil said Tuesday he has no official information on what the investigation is about, but he has heard rumors about it.

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