Ethics Charge Filed Over Finance Report On Election Eve

OCEAN CITY – With the municipal election looming on Tuesday, an ethics complaint was filed Monday at City Hall against Council President Jim Hall for reporting false campaign finance information.

First thing Monday morning, Councilwoman Mary Knight, who was re-elected handily on Tuesday, formally filed an ethics violation against Jim Hall for not including accurate disclosures in his campaign financial report that was due on Oct. 30. Jim Hall filed his campaign financial statement on Oct. 31.

“I have formally started the process based on the disbursements,” Knight said. “The problem is he has said that he has not received any bills for newspaper ads from the Maryland Coast Dispatch or Ocean City Today, and I know for a fact all of my bills from the Maryland Coast Dispatch … had to be paid for in full.”

Maryland Coast Dispatch Publisher Steve Green said Monday that Jim Hall, like all candidates, pre-paid for his campaign advertising. Green said it’s the company’s policy that all political advertisements be paid prior to publication.

Green confirmed Hall spent in excess of $5,000 on his ads over the last month. Typically, Green said candidates ask for an invoice when the ads are reserved and then pay prior to the publication date. In Jim Hall’s case, he reserved the ads, found out what he owed from his account executive and then immediately made payment, according to Green.

According to Jim Hall’s 2012 Election Statement of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures, under Outstanding Obligations, he listed “paper ads”, “Dispatch” and “OC Today”, and the reasoning is “doesn’t have bill yet.”

Since the ads were pre-paid, Green said it was true no bill was given to Jim Hall, but a statement showing all ads paid would be provided to the candidate upon request. Jim Hall called Green on Monday to obtain that information after being advised by City Solicitor Guy Ayres he would need to file an amendment to its campaign report.

Knight has also requested Jim Hall’s 2008 State of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures because she has reason to believe the discrepancy in his ending balance and beginning balance is rather large.

Jim Hall’s report covers a transaction period from Jan. 1, 2012 to Oct. 31, 2012 and as of the beginning of the transaction period he reported a cash balance of $17,500.

“I just want to make sure that it is the same ending balance as in 2008,” she said. “The process has begun.”

Knight’s statement of contributions and expenditures expands over a transaction period of Sept. 1, 2012 to Oct. 30, 2012 and her cash balance as of the beginning of the transaction period is zero dollars.

Knight completed an entire page of contributions she has received totaling close to $5,000. Her total amount of disbursements came to about $2,500, including two payments to this paper for ads.

Former Councilman Joe Hall’s statement of contributions and disclosures stated no beginning date for the transaction period but ran through Oct. 30, 2012 and had $1,500 as a cash balance as of the beginning of the transaction period but was crossed out and initialed by himself for an unknown reason.

Joe Hall’s statement listed one contribution in the amount of $1,500. He listed three disbursements totaling $1,300, and paid advertisements in this paper was included as a disbursement.

The final incumbent in this year’s election, Councilman Doug Cymek, who was re-elected on Tuesday, turned in his statement of contributions and expenditures but no dates of the transaction period were included.

Cymek completed over two pages of contributions totaling close to $8,000. His total amount of expenditures came to almost $6,000 and also included paid ads for this paper.

Cymek said he is offended to find out that Jim Hall, who lost his council seat on Tuesday after 25 years in office, didn’t put in the amount of time that the rest did to complete the report.

“It is about honesty. It is sworn under oath and notarized,” Cymek said referring to the first page of the financial report. “If he is found in violation it would be perjury. He swore under the penalties of perjury.”

Before a signature line and space for notary the statement reads, “Failure to provide all required information on the attached forms will be regarded as a failure to file”, followed by “I do hereby declare and affirm under penalties of perjury that this State of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures … are true, correct, complete and accurate.”

Knight is expecting for Jim Hall to be called before the Ethics Commission in the next week. On election day, she and Joe Mitrecic, who was elected by virtue of his third-place finish, said the outcome of the election would not impact the ethics charge.

Jim Hall was not aware of the ethics complaint that had been filed against him on Monday. He said he has not received a bill from this paper but left a blank check with the sales representative to pay for the ads.

“I know I paid but I can’t tell you how much they were because I have no way of knowing,” he said. “I assumed at the end of the month they were going to send me a bill.”

As far as the ethics complaint being filed a day before elections and the chance of being accused of perjury, Jim Hall said, “That is ridiculous … I don’t expect anything less from them.”