Ethics Commission Update @ 23 May 2010

            At its May 17th meeting, the Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint for a conflict of interest violation brought before it at its April 19th meeting. The Ethics Commission does not disclose the identity of the person who brings the complaint (the complainant) or of the person against whom the complaint is lodged (the respondent).  Those involved are under no constraints as to confidentiality. 

            The decision of the Commission in this case is very helpful in informing the public about the County’s Ethics Law.  In this case, the respondent, Sheila Tolliver, had been publicly asked at a televised Planning Commission meeting by another member of the Planning Commission, Barry Waterman, to recuse herself from discussions and votes regarding Queenstown and Wheatlands Farm which she refused to do.  The complaint against Mrs. Tolliver, brought by Mr. Mareen Waterman, alleged that she had a conflict of interest and had violated the County Public Ethics Law by not recusing herself.  The Ethics Commission considered both Mr. Waterman’s complaint and Mrs. Tolliver’s response.

            Mr. Maureen Waterman based his complaint on the last provision of  the Chapter 27, the Human Resources Code, which states Standards of Ethical Conduct.  The Ethics Commission determined that the Human Resources Code expressly excludes members of Boards and Commissions appointed by the County Commissioners from its provisions.  They stated  that the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction is solely Chapter 8, the Code of Public Ethics, and that members of Boards and Commissions appointed by the County Commissioner are subject to Chapter 8.

            Even though the complaint was based on a non-applicable provision of the County Code, the Ethics Commission then considered the allegations in regard to Chapter 8, which is applicable to Planning Commission members.  The conflicts of interest described by Chapter 8 are only those conflicts that arise or could arise from a Board or Commission member’s personal financial interest(s).  To take part in a discussion and vote that involves a belief, a personal, non-financial interest, or a philosophy of a Board or Commission member is not a conflict.  In fact, members are often appointed to Boards and Commissions to make sure a certain philosophy or approach to issues is represented. Because the Ethics Commission found that none of evidence presented showed that Mrs. Tolliver had a financial interest in the discussion and vote regarding Queenstown and Wheatlands Farm, Mr. Waterman’s complaint was dismissed.

            You can find the Ethics Commission’s opinion on the complaint (10-02) on our website, www.ethicsmattersinc.org under Opinions.

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            Ethics Matters recommends reading the Ethics Commission’s 2009 Annual Report, found under Documents, on our website www.ethicsmattersinc.org , the County’s website, or at the public libraries.  It is an excellent overview of what the Ethics Commission does in general and, in particular, the decisions and actions it took during the past year, including brief descriptions of the 18 Advisory Opinions it issued in 2009.

            The volunteer Commission members are to be congratulated for their dedication, evidenced by the amount of time and thought they have given to creating and sustaining a culture of ethical governance in Queen Anne’s County.  One member, Neal Jackson, recently resigned from the Commission to run for elective office.  As a retired vice-president of a national non-profit organization, Mr. Jackson brought a great deal of experience to EC discussions and decision making.  The current members of the Commission are Bob Mueller, Chair; Kendall Ruffatto, Vice-chair; Hal Wilson; Nanese Hawthorne; and Ben Tilghman.

             The County has issued a press release asking interested citizens to apply for the now vacant alternate position by June 11.  A resume and letter of interest should be sent to by regular mail to:  The QAC Commissioners’ Office, The Liberty Bldg., 107 N. Liberty St., Centreville MD 21617, attn: Jan Edwards or by email to jedwards@ qac.org with “Ethics Commission vacancy” in the subject line.


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