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Emmitsburg adopts changes to ethics rules

(10/18) The Emmitsburg Town Council unanimously adopted proposed changes to the municipal ethics regulations at their October 17 meeting..

Changes in the existing ethics rules had been considered since the 2004 and 2005 investigations of the town Ethics Commission into allegations lodged against then council members William B. O'Neil, Jr. and Arthur Elder, during which some aspects of the guidelines seemed to some to be unclear.

O'Neil, Jr. and Elder were determined by the commission in 2005 to have violated ethics mandates. The commission then approved a recommendation to the town Council that the accused be issued cease and desist notices regarding the alleged violations.

Town Attorney John Clapp stated at the October 3 council meeting that the changes being proposed at this time were compelled by the state to bring county and municipal ethics regulations closer into compliance with the state ethics rules regarding elected officials.

Among the key changes, the council voted to hold the positions of town manager and town clerk equal in terms of financial disclosures on the same level as those required of elected officials, and included the position of town planner and members of the ethics committee, the planning commissions, and the town (zoning) Board of Appeals to less stringent financial disclosure mandates.

The changes also forbid an elected official, or an individual appointed to temporarily fill a vacated elected position, from representing entities that have had business before the town for a period of one year after that official has vacated their position.

Also, the new regulations provide a concise direction for conducting ethics investigations, including the process of advancing a finding of guilt to the council and, if necessary, to court.

Violations of the impending regulations could carry a fine of up to $10,000, or imprisonment of up to a year.

Council President Christopher V. Stager said the process represents "what we (council) tried to do the last time (during the 2004-2005 ethics investigation)" but it was "not laid out" with clarity.

The new set of ethics guidelines must now be approved by the state.

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