Thurmont Ethics Commission convenes for
(10/21/04) Thurmont's Ethics Commission met Friday to
consider a request by town resident John Ashbury to investigate the matter of
overdue utility bills of town Commissioner Wayne Hooper.
Ashbury submitted the request in late August.
Hooper's water, sewer and electric utilities reached a
combined total of about $3,000 before they were paid in late June. His
utilities were not turned off, but other residents with lesser bills had their
electricity turned off. Hooper's bills were paid after going nearly a full year
with no payment.
A July report by the town's attorney investigating
Hooper's water, sewer and electric bills determined Hooper did not ask for
favors, but did benefit from what was essentially labeled an administrative
snafu. Hooper is the town commission's liaison to the electric utility.
Ashbury said he asked the Ethics Commission to consider
the issue because the Town of Thurmont pays town attorney Debra S. Borden of
Board and Borden, LLC of Frederick, which he contends presents a conflict of
interest for the attorney. He also wants the matter considered beyond just
The Ethics Commission didn't begin its work until last
week because the commission wasn't fully staffed until two weeks ago.
At the meeting Friday, new commission member Melissa
Oland was unanimously elected chairperson for the commission. Oland worked as
an investigator in the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and as a lie-detector
technician for many years.
Oland and fellow commissioners Dawn Hawes and John Ford
then dug their heels into developing policies and procedures for the
commission, using a draft prepared by Ford. Discussion centered on how and when
investigations would be conducted.
The board referred frequently to the town's code on the
Ethics Commission. The three members, who are appointed for as long as they are
willing to serve, labored intensely over some issues and skimmed through
Ashbury, who attended the meeting, questioned some of
the commission's policies. One policy which most troubled Ashbury dealt with
the fact that state law prohibits the release of any names in the commission's
final report, according to town attorney Borden.
He questioned how residents could have any confidence
in a decision if they don't know what was done and to whom.
"That law really ruins the idea of having an ethics
commission," he said.
While the person filing the complaint is not supposed
to reveal the name of those being investigated, there is no penalty for doing
so, Borden said.
Another topic was whether the commission should have
subpoena power, requiring people to appear for questioning in an investigation.
Borden said most ethics commissions have subpoena
power, but Thurmont's commission does not. However, that is something that can
be changed in the Thurmont code, she said.
Regardless of whether or not the commission has
subpoena power, however, the commission is still an investigative body. A town
employee can be required to appear or be questioned but residents cannot, she
Following the meeting, the board convened for a closed
session to begin the Hooper inquiry.
At about the time Ashbury's complaint was filed, The
Gazette reported that the town's Ethics Commission was not conducting public
information sessions, as is required in the town code, and the town's Web site
did not include information for the commission, despite listing other
commissions. The town's Web site www.thurmont.com - now includes information
on the Ethics Commission's purpose and lists the names of its members.
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