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Commissioner frustrated with
Ethics Committee

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

Emmitsburg Commission President Bill O'Neil voiced frustration this week with the town's Ethics Committee, which is in the middle of an investigation of him and another town commissioner.

O'Neil said the committee is urging him to set up a meeting with them despite the fact that he has not been given documents he requested to prepare for his testimony.

Town spokesperson Pat Feeser said Wednesday, however, that she personally delivered a large packet of information before the Jan. 6 town meeting. Feeser said she put the information on O'Neil's desk in the town office.

But O'Neil said he never received the packet.

"I don't doubt that [Feeser] put it there, but I can tell you when I went there to pick up the packet and memos... there was nothing there," he said. "And this is what I'm talking about with leaving things in the mailbox [on the desk]."

O'Neil said he and the other town commissioners receive their mail in a bin on their respective desks in an unlocked office.

O'Neil said he received his first notification about the ethics investigation in an unsecured envelope on his desk. He said the envelope was not marked confidential. The reminder was delivered to him the same way, he said.

O'Neil said anything sent to him of an obviously confidential and important nature should be sent by certified mail to his home. At the very least, if an important package of information related to the investigation was left on his desk, someone should have alerted him to its delivery, he said.

Feeser said she prepared another packet for O'Neil on Tuesday, when he sent her another e-mail request.

"When I saw the e-mail, I sent them out certified mail to his home," she said.

O'Neil originally requested the documents on Dec. 25 in an e-mail to town manager David Haller, just days after learning O'Neil and Commissioner Art Elder were being investigated by the town's Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee has so far only asked the two commissioners to meet with the committee and has not cited specific allegations against them. Copies of two written complaints were sent to the commissioners, but all names ­ except theirs ­ were blacked out so they could not identify who had made the complaints.

David Runkle, operator of a printing business in town, filed one of the ethics complaints, according to Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Brennan. Runkle has said that O'Neil inappropriately used his position to influence the town government into investigating Runkle's business. That business competes with a printing business owned and operated by Commissioner Elder's cousin.

Commissioner Elder said Wednesday that he has not gotten information he requested regarding the ethics investigation either.

Elder also received a reminder recently to set up an interview and has not officially responded. Elder said he has no intention of meeting with the committee, which he refers to as a "kangaroo court."

O'Neil has said he would meet with the committee once he has sufficient documentation and enough time to prepare with his attorney for the interview. O'Neil has insisted the meeting be in public, while the committee's letter requested a closed-door meeting.

In a statement released to the media this week, O'Neil said he believes the purpose of his "reminder" letter from the Ethics Committee was to "imply that I am being uncooperative and evasive. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Chairman Brennan was out of town on business this week and could not be reached for comment.

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