Chapter 18, ETHICS

[HISTORY: Adopted 02/25/82 by Ord. No. 37-82; amended 11/15/82 by Ord. No. 37-82A; 04/19/83 by Ord. No. 37-82-B; 09/27/83 by Ord. No. 37-82C; 11/20/90 by Ord. No. 37-82-D; 11/27/02 by Ord. No. 02-24; 02/11/03 by Ord. No. 03-05. Repealed in its entirety and readopted on 07/01/03 by Ord. No. 03-14.]

18-1. Purpose.   18-9. Solicitation or acceptance of gifts.
18-2. Definitions.   18-10. Financial disclosures.
18-3. Applicability.   18-11. Lobbying.
18-4. Ethics Commission and Ethics Administrator   18-12. Exemptions and modifications.
18-5. Duties and responsibilities.   18-13. Confidentiality.
18-6. Procedures for advisory opinions.   18-14. Protection for complainants.
18-7. Complaint procedures.   18-15. Enforcement.
18-8. Prohibited conduct and conflicts of interest.  
 18-1. Purpose.

 A. The County Commissioners, recognizing that our system of representative government depends in part upon the people maintaining the highest trust in their public officials and employees, find and declare that:

(1) The people have a right to be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of public officials and employees will be maintained;

(2) The people have a right to be assured that the financial interests of holders of and candidates for public office present no conflict with the public interest; and

(3) This trust is eroded when the conduct of the County's business is subject to improper influence, or even the appearance of improper influence.

 B. For these reasons, this chapter establishes ethical standards for County officials and employees, financial disclosure requirements for County officials and employees, and disclosure requirements for lobbyists.

 C. The provisions of this chapter will be broadly construed and strictly enforced.

18-2. Definitions.

[Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

In this chapter, the following terms have the meanings indicated.  Any term not defined shall have its generally accepted meaning.

ADMINISTRATOR -- The Carroll County Ethics Administrator.

BOARD -- The Board of County Commissioners of Carroll County, Maryland.

BUSINESS ENTITY -- Includes any entity, profit or non-profit, organized for any purpose in any form.

CABINET MEMBER -- Any person as defined by the Board of County Commissioners of Carroll County, Maryland.

COMPENSATION -- Any money or thing of value, regardless of form, received or to be received by an individual covered by this chapter from an employer for services rendered.  For the purposes of the lobbying section of this chapter, if lobbying is only a portion of a person's employment, "compensation" means a prorated amount based on the time devoted to lobbying compared to the time devoted to other employment duties.  For reporting purposes, a prorated amount shall be labeled as such.

COMMISSION -- The Carroll County Ethics Commission.

COMPLAINANT -- Any person filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging a violation of this chapter.

EMPLOYEE -- Any person, other than an official, employed by the County Commissioners.

EXECUTIVE ACTION -- Any action taken by the County Commissioners in an executive capacity.

FAMILY MEMBER -- The parents, children, stepchildren, siblings, and spouse of an official or an employee. The spouse of each family member of an official or employee.

FINANCIAL INTEREST -- 

 1. Ownership of any interest as a result of which the owner has received within the past 3 years remuneration of cash value or dividends; or

 2. Ownership of securities of any kind representing or convertible to ownership of a business entity.

GIFT -- The transfer of anything of economic value, regardless of the form, without an exchange of consideration of at least equal value. "Gift" does not include a transfer regulated by state or federal law governing political campaigns or elections. [Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

HONORARIUM -- 

 1. A payment of money or anything of value for:

a. Speaking to, participating in, or attending a meeting, conference or other function; or

b. Writing an article, other than a book, that has been or is intended to be published.

 2. The acceptance of payment for any of the above which falls under performance of job duties and responsibilities is prohibited.

 3. The acceptance of payment for any of the above which is non-employment related must be reported as secondary employment.

 4. "Honorarium" does not include payment of or reimbursement for reasonable expenses for meals, travel, lodging, and care for children or dependent adults.

LOBBYING -- The performing of any act requiring registration under this chapter.

LOBBYIST -- Any person who, within a reporting period, in the presence of any official or employee has communicated with that official or employee for the purpose of influencing any legislative action, and who, for that purpose either incurs expenses or receives compensation, or gives to one or more officials or employees meals, beverages, entertainment or gifts in connection with or with the purpose of influencing executive action.

OFFICIAL -- The County Commissioners, a director, deputy director, officer, administrator, bureau chief, or manager of any County department or agency, and each member appointed to a County board or commission.

RESPONDENT -- Any person responding to a complaint filed against them alleging a violation under this chapter.

18-3. Applicability.

[Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

The provisions of this chapter apply to all Carroll County, Maryland, officials and employees excluding those who are covered by the Maryland Public Ethics Law and excluding the Board of Education (members and employees).

The provisions of this chapter related to financial disclosure apply only to the following listed officials and employees:

 A. Elected County Officials:

  1. The Board of County Commissioners

 B. Officials and Employees:

  1. Chief of Staff

  2. County Clerk

  3. Special Assistant

  4. County Attorney

  5. Senior Assistant or Assistant County Attorney

  6. Comptroller

  7. Deputy Comptroller

  8. Director

  9. Deputy Director

10. Bureau Chief

11. Administrator

12. Manager

13. (Reserved) [Deleted 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

14. Inspector

15. Auditor

16. Office Manager

17. Code Official

18. Deputy Code Official

19. (Reserved) [Deleted 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

20. Legal Documents Coordinator [Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

21. (Reserved) [Deleted 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

22. Engineer

23. County Surveyor

24. Investment Officer

25. Collections Office Supervisor

26. Buyer or Senior Buyer

27. Senior Center Manager

28. Plan Reviewers 

 C. Boards and Commissions:

  1. Planning and Zoning Commission

  2. Board of Zoning Appeals

  3. Board of License Commissioners (Liquor Board)

  4. Ethics Commission

  5. Agricultural Preservation Board

  6. Environmental Advisory Council

  7. Electrical Board

  8. Plumbing Advisory Board

  9. Historic Preservation Commission

10. Utilities Advisory Council [Added 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

11. Any Ad Hoc Committee or Task Force providing advice and/or recommendations regarding acquisitions, zoning, designations of land, or zoning, subdivision or development related ordinances.

The Ethics Administrator may require financial disclosures from officials and employees not on this list as necessary.

18-4. Ethics Commission and Ethics Administrator.

[Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

 A. There is hereby established an Ethics Commission consisting of 6 members appointed by the Board. Initial appointments for members will be staggered. Two members will be appointed for a term of one year, 2 members will be appointed for a term of 2 years, and 2 members will be appointed for a term of 3 years. Thereafter, all appointments will be for a term of 3 years. No member will serve more than 2 consecutive terms.

 B. The Board will select from the membership of the Commission an Ethics Administrator, who will serve for a term of three years from the date appointed.

 C. The Ethics Administrator will conduct the routine business of the Commission and maintain all files and records of the Commission. The Ethics Administrator will issue advisory opinions, conduct inquiries, investigations, and hearings, and present findings to the Commission. The Ethics Administrator is a non-voting member of the Commission.

 D. Members of the Commission will possess the following qualifications:

(1) All members will be residents of Carroll County.

(2) No member will hold or be a candidate for office of the United States Government, State Government, a political subdivision, or municipality.

(3) No member will be an employee of Carroll County Government or have a family member as an employee of Carroll County Government.

(4) No member will be an employee of any political party.

(5) No member will be a registered lobbyist for any organization in the State of Maryland that may create a conflict of interest.

 E. The Board will seek recommendations for members of the Commission who are believed to be impartial, fair, and reasonable, from the community at large prior to the appointment of Commission members.

 F. The Board may remove members of the Commission for cause, including, but not limited to, conflicts of interest or if they become disqualified.

 G. Members will not be entitled to compensation but are entitled to reimbursement of reasonable expenses. The Ethics Administrator may receive a stipend as determined by the Board.

 H. A quorum of the Commission must be present to conduct business. A quorum will consist of a simple majority.

 I. Attendance at Ethics Commission meetings will be limited to Ethics Commission members, legal counsel, and administrative staff designated by the Commission to take minutes. Other persons with official business before the Commission may also be in attendance only as permitted by the Commission. [Added 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

 J. The County Attorney will advise the Commission. In the event that the County Attorney is unable to provide legal advice due to a conflict or a perceived conflict, the Commission may request through the County Attorney outside counsel in accordance with the Code of Public Local Laws 3-303.  

18-5. Duties and responsibilities.

The Commission will have the following powers, duties and responsibilities:

 A. To devise, receive and maintain all forms generated in accordance with this chapter;

 B. To provide advisory opinions to persons subject to the provisions of this chapter;

 C. To investigate complaints alleging violations of this chapter;

 D. To hold hearings, swear witnesses, issue decisions, and take any other actions necessary to administer this chapter;

 E. To provide information to the public regarding the purposes and application of this chapter and training to officials and employees on a regular basis;

 F. To meet as needed but no less than once per year; and

 G. To provide periodic review of this chapter.

 18-6. Procedures for advisory opinions.

[Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

A. Any official or employee, or other person subject to the provisions of this chapter may submit a written request to the Ethics Administrator for an advisory opinion concerning the application of this chapter.

B. The Ethics Administrator will respond promptly, but no later than 30 calendar days, in writing to such requests providing interpretations of this chapter based on the facts provided. If dissatisfied with the Ethics Administrator's response, a person may request a second opinion from the Commission. If the Ethics Administrator is unable to respond within 30 days, then the County Attorney will respond, or in the absence of the County Attorney, the Commission will respond.

 C. Advisory opinions will be maintained as public records and will be redacted (edited) to protect personally identifiable information. Confidential copies of advisory opinions will be mailed to all members of the Ethics Commission and to the County Attorney. [Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

18-7. Complaint procedures.

A. Filing of Complaints. Any person, including the Commission on its own motion, may file a complaint of questionable conduct or misconduct with the Commission. Such complaints must:

(1) Be against an official, employee, or lobbyist under the jurisdiction of the Commission; and

(2) Allege a violation of this chapter either by:

(a) Actual activities or decisions that present a conflict of interest; or

(b) Conduct or relationships that give the appearance of a conflict of interest or improper influence; or

(c) Conduct that may present a conflict of interest or improper influence; or

(d) Conduct or relationships that violate the financial disclosure or lobbying provisions of this chapter including failure to adequately complete forms.

(3) Be filed with the Commission in writing. The written complaint of violation must contain the name of the employee or official and set forth sufficient facts to substantiate the alleged violation. The complaint must also contain the name, address, and telephone number of the complainant.

(4) A complaint must be filed within 2 years after the date of the alleged violation.

 B. Processing Complaints.

(1) Recording Complaints. Once the Commission receives a complaint it will be recorded in an appropriate confidential log under a unique file number. This log will be kept with confidential files and will not be subject to public view. If a reasonable basis exists for a preliminary inquiry, the Commission will send written notice of the complaint to the complainant and respondent.

 (2) Investigating Complaints.

(a) Preliminary Inquiry. The Commission through the Ethics Administrator may conduct a preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry is the process by which a matter may be presented to the Commission for preliminary review to determine whether the matter should be processed as a complaint. If the matter does not qualify for further action, the disposition will be entered in the confidential log. The Commission will dismiss the complaint and notify the complainant and respondent in writing. All information will be subject to the confidentiality provisions of this chapter.

(b) Formal Investigation.

[1] Complaints, which are determined to have enough merit for further action, will be investigated by the Ethics Administrator with assistance from selected County staff.

[2] After investigation, the Ethics Administrator will present results of investigations of complaints to the Commission. This report may contain provisions for a resolution of minor infractions, which have been agreed to by the respondent. The Commission may accept this resolution and no hearing need be scheduled. Upon resolution, the Commission will notify the complainant and respondent in writing.

[3] If the Commission determines that there is sufficient evidence that a violation of the ethics laws has or is occurring, and a resolution is not appropriate, a hearing will be scheduled. The respondent and complainant will be notified in writing at least 30 days prior to the hearing date. The preliminary findings of the Commission will be forwarded to the respondent and complainant at the same time as notice of the hearing.

 C. Oaths and Requests. The Commission will have the following powers to the extent permitted by law:

(1) On its own or through its designee, the Commission may administer oaths and affirmations.

(2) The Commission may request in writing any person to attend, testify, or produce books, papers, records, documents or other tangible objects.

(3) County employees are expected to comply with all requests from the Commission or be subject to action under Chapter 48 of this Code.

 D. Hearings.

(1) The Commission will conduct hearings. A member may recuse himself or herself if a personal interest may present a conflict or an appearance of conflict. Hearings are not open to the public.

(2) The respondent may be represented by counsel of their choosing and may present evidence and witnesses on their own behalf.

(3) All hearings are administrative hearings and are therefore not subject to the strict rules of evidence. Latitude is available to the Commission in order to determine the true circumstances of the case and arrive at an appropriate conclusion.

(4) Evidence and investigation results will be presented to the Commission by the Ethics Administrator or, if necessary, by staff assisting the Ethics Administrator.

(5) The standard of review used by the Commission in determining whether a violation has occurred will be a preponderance of the evidence.

(6) The Commission will make written findings of fact and conclusions of law based on evidence presented at the hearing. The report of the Commission will contain the alleged violations, the elements of the violations, the findings of fact by the Commission, action taken by the Commission, and the signature of Commission members present at the hearing. The Commission will send its written findings to the complainant and respondent.

(7) Written reports of investigations will be maintained as public records and will be redacted (edited) to protect personally identifiable information.

 E. Criminal Activity.

(1) If the Commission, while considering a complaint, finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent may have committed a criminal offense, the Commission will promptly refer the matter to an appropriate prosecuting authority.

(2) The Commission will make available to the prosecuting authority all pertinent evidence or information under its control.

 F. Dismissal of Complaint. The Commission may at any time dismiss a complaint if it believes that probable cause of a violation of this chapter does not exist.

18-8. Prohibited conduct and conflicts of interest.

Carroll County officials and employees will not:

 A. Participate on behalf of the County in any matter which would, to their knowledge, have a direct financial impact, as distinguished from the public generally, on them, any family member or a business entity with which they are or any family member is affiliated.

 B. Hold or acquire a financial interest in a business entity that has or is negotiating a contract with the County or is regulated by their agency, except as otherwise exempted by the Commission.

 C. Be employed by a business entity that has or is negotiating a contract with the County or is regulated by their agency, except as otherwise exempted by the Commission.

 D. Hold any outside employment relationship that would impair their impartiality or independence of judgment.

(1) Employees seeking outside employment must comply with the procedural requirements of Article X of Chapter 48 of the Code of Public Local Laws and Ordinances as follows:

(a) Employees must notify their supervisor and Director in writing who will review the outside employment request to determine if it poses a conflict of interest or adversely affects the mission of the department.

(b) If either the supervisor or Director finds a conflict or adverse affect, then the employee may not engage in the outside employment.

(c) If the supervisor and Director find no conflict or adverse affect, then the request will be forwarded to the Department of Human Resources for review and approval. If the Department of Human Resources does not approve, then the Department will work with the Director to informally resolve the conflict. If the Department and the Director are unable to resolve, then the Department and Director will seek an advisory opinion from the Ethics Administrator.

(d) The Department of Human Resources will forward the request to the Ethics Administrator for review and approval.

(e) An official or employee appointed to a regulatory or licensing authority pursuant to a statutory requirement is not automatically in conflict as a result of such appointment;

(f) Subject to other provisions of law, any member of a board or commission in regard to a financial interest or employment held at the time of appointment is not automatically in conflict, provided that it is publicly disclosed to and approved by the appointing authority and the Commission.

 E. Represent any party, for a contingent fee, before any County body.

 F. Within 2 years following termination of County service, assist or represent another party for remuneration in connection with any proceeding, application, case, contract or other specific matter involving the County or any agency thereof if that matter is one in which the former official or employee significantly participated as an official or employee through decision, approval or recommendation.

 G. Use the prestige of their office for their own benefit or that of another or misuse County property, time, resources, or materials.

 H. Use or disclose confidential information acquired in their official County position for their own benefit or that of another. This prohibition also applies to a former employee or official.

18-9. Solicitation or acceptance of gifts.

 [Amended 05/02/06 by Ord. No. 06-04]

A. An official or employee will not:

(1) Solicit any gift;

(2) Knowingly accept a gift, directly or indirectly, from any person that the official or employee knows or has reason to know:

(a) Is doing business or seeking to do business with the County;

(b) Has a financial interest that may be substantially and materially affected, in a manner distinguishable from the public generally, by the performance or nonperformance of the official's or employee's duties;

(c) Is engaged in an activity regulated or controlled by the County; or

(d) Is a lobbyist with respect to matters within the official's or employee's jurisdiction.

(3) Unless a gift of any of the following would tend to impair the impartiality and the independence of judgment of the official or employee receiving it, this Section does not apply to:

(a) Meals and beverages consumed in the presence of the donor;

(b) Ceremonial gifts or awards which have insignificant monetary value;

(c) Unsolicited gifts of nominal value or trivial items of informational value;

(d) Reasonable expenses for food, travel, lodging, and scheduled entertainment of the official or the employee for a meeting which is given in return for participation in a panel or speaking engagement at the meeting;

(e) Gifts of tickets or free admission extended to an elected official from the person sponsoring or conducting the event to attend athletic, charitable, cultural, or political events if the purpose of the gift or admission is to enhance and promote the County as a courtesy or ceremony extended to the office;

(f)  A specific gift or class of gifts which the Commission exempts from this Section after finding in writing that accepting the gift or class of gifts is not detrimental to the impartial conduct of the business of a County agency;

(g) Gifts from a family member; or

(h) Honoraria or awards for achievement.

 B. If any gifts are received, all County officials and employees must file monthly a statement with the Commission by the end of each month disclosing those gifts received during that month from any person or entity. The statement must identify the donor of the gift and its approximate retail value at the time of receipt.

18-10. Financial disclosures.

[Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

A. All County officials and employees listed in 18-3 must file annually not later than January 31st of each year during which they hold office, a financial disclosure statement with the Commission. Also, all County officials and employees listed in 18-3 must file a financial disclosure statement with the Commission within 30 days of their initial appointment or hire and annually thereafter. [Amended 06/17/10 by Ord. No. 2010-10]

B. All County officials and employees must list for the past year the following:

(1) All of their real estate holdings in Carroll County, excluding their personal residence and up to one acre surrounding that residence, whether held individually, jointly, in partnership, or corporately, and with whom the property is owned; and

(2) Any and all business entities that do business in Carroll County in which they have a financial interest excluding business interests in which they own less than 5% of the stock of a company traded on a major stock exchange.

 C. All County officials and employees must file a statement with the Commission disclosing any interest or employment the holding of which might require disqualification from participation. The statement must be filed at the time the person in question knows or should know of the conflict or potential conflict of interest.

 D. Candidates for elective office must file statements consistent with the requirements of this section at the time that they file their certificates of candidacy.

 E. Disclosure statements filed pursuant to this section that have been redacted (edited) to protect personally identifiable information will be maintained as public records.

18-11. Lobbying.

 A. All lobbyists must register with the Commission before undertaking any lobbying activity.

 B. The registration statement must include complete identification of the registrant and of any other person on whose behalf the registrant acts. The statement must also identify the subject matter on which the registrant proposes to make appearances.

 C. Registrants under this section must file monthly a report by the end of each month during which they were registered, disclosing the value, date and nature of any food, entertainment or other gift provided to any County official or employee. The official or employee to whom a gift was given must also be identified.

 D. The registrants and reports filed pursuant to this section will be maintained by the Commission as public records.

18-12. Exemptions and modifications.

A.  The Commission may grant exemptions and modifications to the provisions of this chapter dealing with conflicts of interest and financial disclosure if it determines that applications of those provisions would:

(1) Constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy;

(2) Significantly reduce the availability of qualified persons for public service; or

(3) Not be required to preserve the purposes of this chapter.

 B. Cabinet members and board chairs may request exemptions for their employees and members from the filing requirements under Financial Disclosure by filing a written request with the Commission before January 31st, including a description of the departments' or boards' duties.

18-13. Confidentiality.

 A. Any action taken by the Commission in connection with a complaint will be conducted in a confidential manner.

 B. The Commission, its staff, the complainant, and the respondent may not disclose any information relating to the complaint, including the identity of the complainant and the respondent. However, the Commission may release any information at any time if the release has been agreed to in writing by the respondent.

 C. The respondent has the right to know the identity of the complainant and to know whether the complaint goes to a hearing or when civil or criminal action is initiated.

 D. The Commission may disclose information as necessary to conduct a preliminary inquiry, investigation, or hearing.

 E. The Commission may disclose information when making referrals to a prosecuting authority.

18-14. Protection for complainants.

A. The Board may not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate against a complainant, or employee acting on behalf of a complainant, regarding compensation, terms, conditions, or privilege of employment because:

(1) The complainant, or employee acting on behalf of the complainant, reports a violation or a suspected violation of this chapter; or

(2) A complainant, or employee acting on behalf of a complainant, is requested by the Commission to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry held by the Commission.

 B. The provisions of this section do not apply to a complainant, or an employee acting on behalf of a complainant, who knowingly makes a false report.

18-15. Enforcement.

 A. An official or employee found to have violated this chapter will be subject to disciplinary or other appropriate action as prescribed in this chapter.

 B. If the Commission determines a person to be in violation of this chapter, the Commission may:

(1) Issue an order of compliance directing the person to cease and desist from the violation and may seek enforcement of this order in the Circuit Court for Carroll County;

(2) Issue a reprimand;

(3) Refer the matter to an appropriate prosecuting authority;

(4) Recommend to the appropriate entity (the Board or the Department of Human Resources and supervisor) discipline of the employee or official, including censure, removal, or termination; or

(5) Order the return of anything of value.