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Panel responds to ethics allegations

Chris Patterson

The Thurmont Ethics Commission has sent resident John Ashbury a report of its investigation into questions he raised about the handling of town Commissioner Wayne Hooper's formerly overdue utility bills.

Ashbury said Wednesday he is "disappointed" with the report, but he would not provide a copy of it to The Gazette. "I think they've missed the point, misinterpreted my letter, and took entirely too long in responding after they met [in October]," Ashbury said.

Town attorney N. Lynn Board of Board and Borden in Frederick said Wednesday that neither her firm nor the town office has a final copy of the report, but that it will be made available to the public at some point.

Mayor Martin Burns has not seen a copy of the report, but is aware it was completed. He said the report would probably not be released publicly until Hooper returns home from the holidays.

Ashbury filed a complaint in August asking the Ethics Commission investigate why the town did not turn off Hooper's electricity as a result of overdue bills when, during the same period, the town shut off power to other residents' homes who had overdue bills.

Ashbury raised questions about the "potential involvement of other town employees regarding not demanding payment, not withholding commissioner pay, not shutting off power ­ all those things," he said.

The Gazette learned in July that Hooper had accumulated around $3,000 in overdue water, sewer and electric bills over about three years, and had made no payments in nearly a year.

After the overdue bills became known to the town's mayor and fellow commissioners at the end of June, Hooper paid the bills in full.

Burns and the commissioners asked town attorney Board to investigate the matter to see if Hooper had used influence as a commissioner to keep his power from being shut off. Board's report concluded there was no undue influence by Hooper, but said there were administrative problems that resulted in the oversight.

Ashbury filed his complaint in August. A newly formed Ethics Commission, which included chair Melissa Oland and commissioners John Ford and Dawn Hawes, met twice in October to consider the complaint. Ashbury said he received the report, dated Dec. 22, on Dec. 29.

Ashbury said Wednesday he plans to review the report in detail before determining if he will take further action. His first reaction to the report, however, was that the commission's determination was at least in part based on "the inadequacy of the town's ethics ordinance."

He said he thinks the commission determined there were "very serious questions" that could not be addressed under the code.

"I would personally like to see a list of recommendations from the commission about how the ordinance should be changed," he said. "If it's inadequate to address issues I raised, then it's inadequate to address the ethical conduct of not only the commissioners and mayor, but also the town's employees."

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