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Index to Ethics Commission Opinions - 1999

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County Council members may vote on legislation that would affect the rights of council members to participate in the employees’ retirement plan.  Although §3-101 generally prohibits members of the council from participating in matters in which they have an interest, §3-101(c) allows employees to participate in those matters if there is no other body capable of acting on the matter.  §§1-101(n), 3-101(a), 3-101(c), 4-104(j)

     

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The Community Services Representative, an assistant to the County Executive, may continue to serve as the treasurer on the Board of the Opportunity Industrialization Center, a private non-profit organization as long as the employee serves in a personal capacity.  The employee may not participate on behalf of either entity in matters of mutual concern, and the employee may not use the employee's title in any organizational literature except as part of a biographical description.  §3-101(a)(1)(i), 3-101(a)(2)(iii), 3-104(a), 3-105

     

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A member of the Planning Advisory Board may not continue to serve on a Small A
rea Planning Committee and even though it is not required, the PAB member should abstain from participating in  matters involving that committee in order to avoid an appearance of impropriety.  §§3-101(a), 3-105(b)(2), 3-105(c)(1)

   

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A Council member is not strictly prohibited from investing in a joint venture with an entity seeking to do business with the Tipton Airport Authority, although such an investment would create an appearance of impropriety.  However, financial investment is the only permissible activity that can be undertaken by the Council member; active participation in the project is prohibited.  Regardless of whether the Council member invests in the enterprise, the member may not participate in any legislative activity involving the authority, including budget legislation , where the member has accounting firm clients doing business or seeking to do business with the authority. §§3-105(b)(1), 3-105(c), 3-102(b)(2)(ii), 3-102(b)(1)(i), 3-102(a), 1-102(a)(2)

   

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A County Council member may not continue to participate in legislative
activity on a proposed bill and the member should withdraw as its co-sponsor where a client of the Council member’s business has an interest in, and is a lobbyist for the bill. §§3-102(a), 3-102(b)(1), 3-102(b)(2)(ii), 1-101(g), 3-104

   

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The Administrative Hearing Officer is not strictly prohibited from participating in an Administrative Hearing where one of the parties is represented by an attorney-partner in a law firm where the spouse of the Hearing Officer is employed, but the participation would create an appearance of impropriety and should be avoided. §§1-101(n),1-102(a)(2), §3-101(a)(2)(iii)

   

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An entity, or one of its principals, may be required to register as a lobbyist, even if the entity has compensated registered lobbyists also working on its behalf, when the entity or its principals engage in lobbying activities.  Any authorized agent of an entity may sign an Employer Authorization Form for a lobbyist. §§1-101(q)(1) and (3), 5-101, 5-102 

    

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Police officers who have or could have professional dealings with a local defense lawyer may not accept an invitation to attend a "first annual police bull roast" hosted by that lawyer, since it is not a meal of modest value, and since it appears designed to impair the impartial and independent judgment of the officers.  §3-106(c)(1)

   

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A County Council member may not participate in the consideration of that
portion of a proposed zoning map or any amendments to the map that would rezone any of the properties adjacent to or in close proximity to the member's own property because those changes could affect the member's property in a significant way, and because this interest creates a presumption of a conflict of interest.  This advice does not preclude the member's participation and vote on the final version of the Comprehensive Rezoning Ordinance. §3-102(b)(2)(ii) and (iv), 3-102(a)

    

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The Fire Department may permit its employees to participate in training sessions for the public, or for a portion of the public, as long as the session is determined to be a service benefiting the citizens of the county.  The department may not permit the commercial use of the video by any entity that might profit from its use, or from the apparent endorsement of the entity's products or services by the fire department. §3-104

   

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The Department of Recreation and Parks cannot permit certain employees to participate in departmental programs without charge, where the programs are established to serve the public for the payment of a fee. This type of special privilege violates §3-104(a) of the Public Ethics Law.

   

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The Fire Marshal and Fire Inspectors are not strictly prohibited from accepting invitations to a party held by a local sprinkler vendor, whose installations are subject to inspection by the Fire Marshal's Office, as long as the value to each employee is less than $25.  However, attendance at such a function would create an appearance of a conflict of interest and should be avoided. §3-106

   

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An employee may not maintain an ownership interest in, or an employment relationship with a business that supplies vending machines to the employee's agency.  The spouse of the employee may only contract with the employee's agency through the normal bidding process, in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.  §3-105(b)(1)

    

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The County Executive’s Special Assistant may participate in a personal or ex officio capacity, as the chairperson of the MLK awards dinner and memorial breakfast, but may not participate, directly or indirectly, in soliciting donations from specifically targeted controlled donors.  Further, any donations received to date from those donors, that were solicited by the assistant, should be returned.  §§3-105, 3-106(a)

   

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An employee of the Department of Recreation and Parks may sit as an ex officio member of the board of a “friends of the park” organization, if assigned to do so by the director of the department, and subject to the director’s control and direction. Reimbursement for expenses or other benefits may only be made to the department, not to the employee.  The employee may not participate in fund raising activities on behalf of the organization.  §§3-105, 3-106(a)

  

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A police officer may not have an interest in, or an employment relationship with a restaurant that has a liquor license.  §§1-101(f)(1), 3-105(b)(1), 3-105(b)(2)

   

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A former member of the Fire Department’s Departmental Charges Hearing Board may represent Fire Department employees before the Board as a private lawyer, except as to those specific matters in which the member previously participated as a board member, or in matters where knowledge of non-public information could have a bearing on any matter before the Board.  The former member may not use any confidential information for the private gain of the lawyer or clients of the lawyer.  §§1-101(f)(1)(2), 3-109, 3-107

   

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Employees may accept reasonable travel expenses from a controlled donor to participate in a “college bowl” type contest at a national conference, since the competition described constitutes participation in a "panel"- an exception to the prohibition against receiving gifts from entities doing business with the recipient's department. Under this exception, an employee may receive reasonable travel expenses from a controlled donor, as long as there are no issues between the donor and the department that could create an appearance of a conflict of interest.  §3-106(c)

   

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An  employee may not sit, either in a personal, or ex officio capacity, on a board of a private entity with goals and priorities that may conflict with the department's own interests.  §3-105(b)(2), 3-105(c)(1)

  

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A department may solicit gifts, subject to the conditions and guidelines set out in the opinion, that will awarded to citizens in support of a public purpose and departmental program.  §3-106(a)

  

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A member of the County Council may accept tickets to a charitable event offered by a controlled donor under the exception to the gift prohibition for gifts of tickets to charitable events given to elected officials if the purpose of the gift is to take part in a ceremony involving the office.  The gift may be accepted even though there is legislation pending that will affect the donor, since the legislation merely adopts a financial commitment previously made by the county council.  §3-106(c)(5).

 

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The personal use of county-owned tools and equipment by employees may be permitted by a department as long as that use is not for profit by the employee or others. §3-104.

  

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Members of a County Executive's transition team are not subject to the Public Ethics Law.  §3-101(f).

  

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An employee whose supervisor may vote on issues related to the Agricultural Preservation Program may apply to, and participate in that program.

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A council member should refrain from participating in zoning legislation that may affect that member's commercially owned property.  Only general guidelines were provided, due to a lack of specific circumstances presented.  §3-102. 

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The county may charter a Toastmasters Club for employees as part of a training program, without violating the prohibition against the endorsement of private entities by county employees. §3-104.

   

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The Fire Department may accept unsolicited donations from controlled donors that will benefit the public and promote the purposes of the department, as long as the circumstances surrounding the gift do not indicate that its receipt will impair the impartial and independent judgment of the employees who deal with the donor.  The department can also accept donations from non-controlled donors.  §3-106.

   

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Employees may not accept reimbursement for lodging and meals from a manufacturer who is hosting a three day seminar that is designed to extol the virtues of the manufacturer's product, and where the attendees will not be participating in a panel discussion.  §3-106. 

   

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A Detention Center Guard may be appointed as a Liquor Board Inspector.

  

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An employee may accept secondary employment in a field that is related to that employee's county duties, as long as the secondary employment occurs exclusively out of the state, and is undertaken during off-duty hours. §§3-104, 3-105.

  

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Employees may accept cell phones from a private entity to be used exclusively in connection with the conduct of county programs and not for personal use. This gift is made to benefit the citizens who participate in the programs and not individual county employees. §3-106

  

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An employee may assist communities in the design and development of  traffic calming devices, as part of the employee's official duties, where the employee is not compensated by the community.  §3-104

  

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Lobbying registration is not required on or by a certain date; it must be done prior to undertaking any lobbying activity. §5-102(a).

  

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An inspector may not work for a spouse on a contract between the spouse and a developer that does business with the employee's department.  The employee may not participate in any inspections involving work performed by the spouse.  The issue of whether an employee may use "sick leave" for the purpose of conducting secondary employment is not an Ethics Law issue.  §§3-101, 3-105.

   

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A county department may accept calling cards for free minutes from a vendor with the department, where the cards are offered to all customers ordering a certain amount of merchandise.  This offer is not a gift, but is an advertised part of the order.  §3-106.

  

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An employee may serve as a mediator in civil disputes, on either a compensated or pro-bono basis, either selected by clients or appointed by the court.

  

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As a "prominent citizen" prior to being employed with the county, the employee may endorse a radio station by recording promotions for that station, as long as the employee is acting in a personal and not official capacity.  The employee may not use the employee's county title or position in connection with these "liners".  §3-104(a).

  

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An employee may accept the gift of a ticket to a political fundraiser from a non-controlled donor, provided that the employee does not participate in any formal introductions as a county employee, or other ceremonies of an official nature.  §3-106.

  

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A private consulting firm may submit a proposal to the county, when that firm participated by contract with the county in developing the specifications that were subsequently used in the request for the proposal.  The firm had no information that was not equally available to other bidders and no apparent advantage over other bidders.  More important, the Public Ethics Law does not apply to private vendors in these circumstances.  §1-101(f).

  

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An employee may engage in secondary employment as a public speaker, provided that the entity that markets the employee's skills does no business with the county, and does not use the employee's title in advertising.  §3-104.

  

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A police officer serves on the Animal Control Commission by ordinance, in an ex officio capacity, and it does not violate §3-105 for the officer to be so engaged even though the Police Department is charged with the enforcement of the Animal Control Laws.

  

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The classified employee member of the Personnel Board who is subsequently elected to an office in a bargaining unit can continue to serve on the board, subject to certain restrictions as to participation in matters in which the union has an interest.  §3-105(d).
   
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An employee in the Critical Areas Division of the Permit Office may buy and build a home in a critical area, subject to the same rules as any other homeowner, and provided that care is taken to ensure that permits are issued by people who are not subject to the employee's supervision.  §3-104.

  

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Fire Department personnel may not accept travel expenses from the manufacturer of fire safety equipment in order to visit the manufacturer's location to consider the purchase of fire safety products. §3-106.

  

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Members of the County Council may accept paperweights engraved with the name of the Community College from the college, as a ceremonial gift of insignificant value, provided that the gift is not given while legislation is pending that would affect the college.  §3-106(c)(2).

  

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An employee may not be employed by a community newspaper, either as a guest columnist, or as a member of the editorial advisory board, if the publication will be taking a position on issues of local government or politics.  §§3-104, 3-105(b)(2), 3-107.

  

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An employee may accept a golf shirt, valued at under $25, from a controlled donor, as a gift of "nominal value", if there is no pending legislation, litigation, or other pending matters involving the donor and the recipient or the recipient's agency. §3-106(c)(3).

  

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An employee may continue to be involved in the production of a television show broadcast over the local PEG channel, since that channel is a public access channel. There is no financial gain to the employee and there are no prestige of office issues involved, since the employee was involved in the production of the show prior to any employment with the county.  §§3-104, 3-105.

  

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An employee may not accept the gift of a cell phone from an entity subject to the authority of the employee and the employee's agency. §3-106(b). (Further details would tend to identify the parties.)

  

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A former employee may engage in employment similar to that person's previous county employment, as long as the job does not involve matters in which the former employee exercised "substantial responsibility" §3-109. (Further details would tend to identify the parties.)
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The Cultural Arts Foundation is a private, non-profit corporation that is not subject to the Public Ethics Law, so the Ethics Commission cannot advise the foundation as to whether members of entities that receive funding from the foundation may sit on the foundation's board of trustees.

  

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A ceremonial gift from a lobbyist to members of the County Council that is of "insignificant monetary value" may not be accepted while there is pending legislation that will affect the lobbyist's interests, because pending legislation is a factor indicating that the gift is designed to impair the impartial and independent judgment of the recipient.  §3-106(c)(2).

  

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An employee may accept secondary employment with a corporation that contracts with a state agency pursuant to an agreement between the county and the state agency, under the circumstances described.  §3-105. (Further details would tend to identify the parties.)

   

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Employees of an agency may accept an invitation from a donor doing business with the agency, to attend a golf outing that is held as a charitable benefit.  The attending employees are expected to make a significant donation to the charity in lieu of payment to attend the golf outing.  This donation constitutes "adequate and lawful consideration" for the golf outing ticket, and is therefore, not a gift.  Beer and hot dogs offered to the attendees is a meal of moderate value and can be accepted.  §§1-101(l)(1), 3-106(c)(1).

  

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Employees may not accept seminar and lodging fees from a vendor doing business with their agency, to attend an educational seminar, since the employees are not participating as speakers or panelists at the conference. §3-106(c)(4).

    

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Police officers may accept coupons worth $2.00 toward the purchase of a food item at a local mall restaurant, since this coupon is not a gift, but is an advertising inducement to purchase more than the one item. This coupon is commonly part of a marketing plan offered to members of the public through newspapers, mail circulars and other promotional means. §1-101(l)(1).

  

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An environmental consulting firm may not employ a County Council member as a consultant to market the firm's services to land developers working in the county.  This inquiry came from the consulting firm, and was answered pursuant to §1001B(f) of the Anne Arundel County Charter.  § §3-104(a), 3-105(c)(1).

   

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The personal use of a county vehicle by a county employee is a matter for the employee's agency to consider.  The Ethics Law prohibits the use of a county vehicle for personal profit or for the gain of others, but does not address the personal use of county resources for other purposes.  §3-104.

   

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A gift made to a charity "in honor of" a county employee, is not a gift to the employee, and the fact that the gift is made by a person doing business with, or lobbying the employee's agency, does not create issues under the gift provisions of the ethics law.  §§1-101(l)(1), 3-106.

 

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