Worcester County Passes New Ethics Code

SNOW HILL — A new ethics code was passed by the Worcester County Commissioners as an emergency bill Tuesday, though the code’s authority stops a little short of what one commissioner hoped.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

A state-wide policy is forcing all counties to bring their ethics regulations in-line with the Maryland minimum or higher. When the changes were first announced last month, county attorney Sonny Bloxom informed the commission the updates will be relatively minor and mostly concern extending the detail of mandatory financial disclosures and clarifying the boundaries of what constitutes a conflict of interest.

Tuesday, the proposed changes were passed into law with little comments. However, Commissioner Louise Gulyas did reiterate an argument she made weeks ago.

“I think this is the most invasive thing,” she said of the new code, particularly financial disclosure mandates.

However, Gulyas decided to vote for the changes since they are required by the state. Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who was not in attendance at the time but relayed his concerns through Commission President Bud Church, asked language be added to the bill extending the same regulations the commissioners, Planning Commission, and Board of Zoning Appeals fall under to the Ethics Board.

“If you’re going to judge, you should be judged equally,” said Shockley. “It’s the way the process works.”

Shockley clarified his concern wasn’t as much with the Ethics Board having to make the same financial disclosures the commissioners do, but focused more on the area of possible conflict of interest. Also, he felt that for a member of that board to make an even, informed decision, they should share the same perspective of the person they’re passing judgment on.

“In order to appreciate what everybody else on that list [of boards and commissions] has to go through, they themselves on the ethics board have to be put through the same test…you can’t understand someone if you don’t walk a mile in their shoes,” he said.

Despite Shockley’s suggestion, Bloxom advised the commission to pass the bill without extending its effects onto the Ethics Board. “They’re not out there on the frontline,” he said.

Bloxom also noted what he perceives as a difficulty in appointing members to the Ethics Board. Cracking down with further restrictions, he said, could make it more difficult to find candidates. The commission decided to follow Bloxom’s recommendation.