Index to Ethics Commission Opinions - 1998
Reasonable expenses for transportation, meals, and lodging may be accepted by an employee from a controlled donor when the purpose of the seminar is clearly educational, and not designed to influence the employee's judgment. §3-106(b)(4)(i)
Since there is no indication that an employee will be participating in a conference as a speaker, a gift of meals and scheduled entertainment from a controlled donor is not acceptable. Even if the employee were to be a speaker, the value of the meals and entertainment are not reasonable, and their value indicates a design to impair the impartial judgment of the employee. Billed as a "client conference", the event appears to be nothing more than a marketing tool for the contractor. §3-106(c)(4)(i)
A member of the Board of Trustees of the Anne Arundel County Retirement and Pension System may attend and participate in two conferences but may not accept the gift of travel and lodging expenses to the conference sponsored by the controlled donor, because the conference is clearly a marketing tool, designed to impair the impartiality of its attendees. The employee may accept the travel and lodging expenses to attend the conference held by the non-controlled donor, even though this conference is sponsored in part, by controlled donors. §3-106(c)(4)(i)
A county board member who is also employed by a private entity, may not bid on any contractual services to the county on behalf of that entity, where the entity could be subject to oversight by the county board on which the employee sits. In addition, the board member may not participate in the development, approval, or evaluation of any proposal or contract that might involve competitors of the member's private entity. §3-101(a), §3-105
A county council member who serves on the North Arundel Hospital Foundation Board may not participate in any matters specifically involving a proposed grant to either the foundation or the hospital. The council member may vote on the county budget. §3-101(a)(2) , §3-101(b)
The members of the Board of Trustees for the Retirement and Pension System may accept lunch from a money management firm if the lunch is of modest value, since it is offered by a contractor as the continuation or culmination of a regularly scheduled meeting, held in the normal course of an ongoing business relationship. In this circumstance, there is no evidence of any intent to impair the impartial judgment of the members of the board of trustees. §3-106(c)(1)
An employee of the Department of Aging may not operate a licensed senior living facility in the county, when the employee's official duties include providing information to senior citizens as to the availability of services, including senior living facilities, and where the employee also assists the clients in obtaining these services. §3-105(b)(2), §3-104
Park rangers employed in the Department of Recreation and Parks may accept a monetary reward from a bank for assisting in the apprehension of bank robbers, even though the bank may do business with the county, since it is far removed from being a controlled donor as to the employee's agency. As a one time gift, it is not designed to impair the impartial judgment of the park rangers who were acting beyond the scope of their duties in pursuing the robbers outside of their jurisdiction. §3-106(b)(c)
A police officer may not own or operate a private security firm or hire off-duty county police officers, to provide private security services to businesses and communities in the county, because of the competition it creates with the officer's department and because of the opportunities for self-promotion. §3-105(b)(1) and (c), §3-104(a)
The county may actively support and solicit contributions for charitable entities and may distribute information about commercial promotions available to its employees as long as it follows the minimum guidelines set forth in the opinion, to avoid even the appearance of partiality or favoritism to one entity over another. §3-104
The County Executive and his staff may neither ask for, nor accept, specific pledges to make a contribution. They may telephone the letter's recipients to remind them of the event and of the letter that has been sent out, but they must state unequivocally that it is only the Cultural Arts Foundation that is accepting contributions, and not the Office of the County Executive. In this way, the County Executive can promote the cultural arts for the benefit of county citizens, without appearing to apply undue pressure upon potential donors to contribute to the cause.
A council member may not participate in any way, in matters involving the Fire Department's budget, personnel, duties and responsibilities, or other issues, where the spouse of the council member is a career firefighter. The council member may not participate in any matters involving firefighters' union issues. This prohibition would not preclude the council member from voting on the general county budget. §3-101(a)(1)(ii) and §3-102(a) and (b)(iv)
A council member may participate as a volunteer helicopter pilot for the Police Department but the member should not participate in any legislative matters affecting the helicopter service, including budgetary, personnel, and other issues, unless an exception is permitted by the Ethics Commission after full disclosure of all material facts. §3-105(b)(1), §3-101(a)(1)(i), and (c), §3-102(d)
The Department of Aging can cohost Expo 55 with the Anne Arundel Trade Council where the proceeds will go to the Friends of Arundel Seniors.
So-called anonymous gifts may not be accepted under any circumstance since the Ethics Commission and everybody else would assume that the gift is not truly anonymous and that it is given as a quid pro quo for some official action by an employee. Since they cannot be returned, anonymous gifts must be given by the county recipient to charitable organizations that have the ongoing support of the county government, or to specific agency programs designed to benefit members of the public. §3-106
It is a violation of §3-104 for a supervisor to request or order an employee to appear in campaign literature. It is particularly inappropriate for that order or request to include the use of the uniform and the use of county time. It violates the same provision for an employee to knowingly appear in campaign advertising while in uniform and during the work day. However, a cake bearing a campaign slogan, designed and baked at the initiative of a police officer, was not a misuse of any authority or prestige of office. §3-104
Although county employees may operate Fire Department equipment in the filming of motion pictures, subject to the approval of the Fire Chief, they may not receive compensation for this service because while in uniform and operating county equipment, they are acting as county employees and are not engaged in secondary employment. §3-104(a) and §3-105
A classified employee in the Utilities Bureau may not serve as a member of the county Board of Appeals because it would constitute secondary employment with an independent agency that would require the employee’s assistance in matters in which the county has an interest. §3-105(c)(1)
A person doing business with the county may not provide a catered lunch to an entire department, because the meal would not be of modest value and is designed and would appear to impair the impartial and independent judgment of its intended recipients. §3-106(c)(4).
A county "spokesperson" may not speak officially in support of an elected official campaigning for office, on matters involving the campaign. §3-104(a).
County employees may accept travel and lodging expenses to attend educational meetings from a donor that is not considered a "controlled donor". §3-106(b).
The county may contract with a vendor to provide cellular phone service to county employees for their personal use at a significant savings over the price available to the general public when the contract was made at arm's length. The county cannot advertise or promote this service on behalf of the vendor or use the resources of the county to market this service for the vendor. §3-104, §1-101(l)(1)and (2).
An employee may not receive gifts from a corporation that is not a "controlled donor" because the primary officer of the corporation does business with the employee's agency and is in fact, the "true" donor. (further details would tend to identify the parties). §3-106(b).
The Public Ethics Law, §3-106 prohibits county employees from accepting gifts from "controlled donors." A contractor, such as a design consultant, would be a controlled donor. There are certain exceptions to this prohibition, one of which includes "occasional meals and beverages of modest value."
A member of the County Council may serve on the board of a private, non-profit organization subject to certain limitations, and provided that the member does not participate in any legislative action involving that organization. §3-105, §3-104, §3-101.
An employee may not accept a door prize worth more than "nominal value" from a controlled donor. A door prize is a gift. §3-106(c)(3), §1-101(l)(1).
The county may not promote or advertise a business promotion or use county resources to assist in a private business promotion. §3-104.
An elected official may promote a cultural arts event that is free and open to the general public as part of that official's ". . .usual and customary constituent services". The staff of the elected official may also, with certain restrictions, solicit gifts from the general business community to support this event, where the gifts are authorized by the highest level of the county administration, will further legitimate public purposes, and where the ultimate beneficiaries of the gifts are county citizens. §3-104(b), §3-106(a).
An elected official and several other officials may accept the invitation by a controlled donor to a long-running annual crab feast since it falls within the exception for "occasional meals and beverages of modest value", since there is no apparent design to impair the independent or impartial judgment of these officials in this particular instance. §3-106(c)(4).
An employee may bid on property during the county's annual property tax sale auction, unless the employee works in the Billing and Customer Service division of the Budget and Finance Office. §3-107.
A door prize with more than a nominal value cannot be accepted by a county employee from a controlled donor. See also, IO-98-74. §3-106(c)(3).
The Fire Department can accept a gift from a grateful citizen if the gift is designated to purchase equipment for use by the Department to benefit the public where the gift was unsolicited and where the Department advised the citizen that gifts are not requested, required, or permitted for individual employees. §3-106.