Many of the questions that candidates for the Frederick County Ethics Commission faced Tuesday related to a 2011 ruling that barred a county commissioner’s construction company from doing work in the county.
Three of four candidates were chosen following the interviews; two will go to work immediately, expanding the three-member board to five members. One will replace an outgoing member July 1. County commissioners voted in November to increase the number from three to five.
In March 2011, the ethics commission advised that Commissioner Kirby Delauter’s construction company, W.F. Delauter and Son, could not pursue work in the county, primarily because projects are inspected by county employees. The opinion, the third on the same subject, was a reversal of a less restrictive opinion issued in January 2011, but a return to the original ruling given in November 2010. Delauter was not informed about the March 2011 decision, and the opinion did not include reasons for the ethics commission’s reversal, other than it had obtained “new information.”
County Commissioner Paul Smith (R) said the line of questioning was relevant because the actions of the ethics commission in Delauter’s case were alarming.
“When you talk about transparency, this particular action on the part of the ethics commission was ... rather arrogant,” Smith said.
Five of the 17 questions posed to candidates during the interviews revolved around issues related to the controversial ruling and the ethics commission’s about-face.
Commissioners asked applicants if a business owner serving as county commissioner should be allowed to conduct business in the county and, if so, what conditions should be placed on the commissioner. They also were asked if the “party in question” should be informed that a meeting has been scheduled and be allowed to attend it.
Smith added four questions in an email to commissioners the day before the interviews, three of them specific to Delauter’s case. His questions included what he considered appropriate answers to help guide other commissioners in judging the applicants.
“After the cCommission makes ruling in a case, if you later change your mind about the ruling what should you do?; If more than 30 days after a ruling, does the commission have authority to review the matter sua sponte [taking action on its own]?; and, If the Ethics Commission sua sponte acts to reverse a ruling previously made, should the Commission state the reasons for the reversal?”
Smith worte in the email that court system’s “revisory powers” are limited to 30 days after a final order, and that the ethics commission should have to give reasons for reversing a decision.
The board’s top choices for the ethics commission were Harold “Bud” Otis, former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Dist. 6); Jesse Goode, a retired Frederick police officer, and Phillip Dacey, an attorney employed by the Motor Vehicle Administration.
Not selected was Richard Terselic, a retired federal employee. When asked by commissioners if he was familiar with the county’s ethics ordinance, Terselic said “no.”
Those chosen agreed the commission should give reasons for reversing a ruling, and that the “party in question” should be informed.
When asked about reversing a previous decision Otis said, “I do not want to be a party to rehashing a decision already made. Settle it and move on to other issues.”
Goode told commissioners he has a clear understanding of the pressures placed on people in positions of power and authority.
“The choices you make each and every day will impact numerous people ... and you are [subject to] certain stresses and attempts to influence your decisions,” Goode told commissioners.
He wants to be part of the ethics commission, he said, because it is one of the most important commissions in the county.
Delauter was impressed with Goode’s answers, and told him he sensed Goode would “not be swayed by [county] staff,” but would make up his own mind.
The selections expand the ethics commission to five members, mostly because a three-member commission has more problems obtaining a quorum. To increase or decrease the size of a county board depends on if the board was initiated by the county or the state, according to Joyce Grossnickle, county administrative officer.
The county’s ethic ordinance is required by state law, but does not dictate how many people can be on the commission, said Linda Thall, county attorney.