Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh introduces new ethics reforms

September 18, 2018

It was another full Anne Arundel County Council meeting Monday night as members debated proposed changes to the county’s ethics laws, legislation that would benefit a medical marijuana business in Annapolis and were warned “blood” is on some of their hands after voting against an abortion resolution at the last meeting.

Residents stood at the back of the room as they waited their turns to discuss business before the council. The most contentious bill was 84-18, which would grandfather a medical marijuana dispensary that is proposed in an industrial zone. The bill was held.

The grandfathering would apply previous law to the Annapolis dispensary as it battles an appeal on the site’s approval. Previous county law — when this dispensary received its variance — did not forbid the action. Current county law forbids granting variances to dispensaries.

Variances are county tools to allow developers and homeowners to bypass certain county rules when they prove those rules are too onerous.

The council also held a public hearing on changes to county ethics laws. These changes include harsher penalties for lobbyists, restricting gifts of meals and beverages and applies the ethics law to all county commissions and boards.

An amendment was proposed to Bill 80-18 that removed an exception for free tickets and admission to certain events. That amendment passed.

The ethics proposal — introduced by County Executive Steve Schuh — also updates the county’s ethics laws to correspond with state changes.

“Our citizens deserve a fair, honest, and transparent government,” Schuh said in a statement. “These reforms will ensure that we instill the highest ethical standards across Anne Arundel County.”

The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission is charged with administering the ethics law, training employees, maintaining financial disclosure records, lobbying records and investigating ethics law violations. The commission would carry out the changes pending council approval.

Other changes are additive and “we feel they’ll help ensure greater accountability of all our elected and county employees,” said Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s spokesman.

One of the largest changes are harsher punishments for lobbyists. The proposed changes include suspending lobbyist registration if the commission finds the lobbyist “knowingly and willfully” violated the county’s ethics law or has been convicted of a criminal offense related to lobbying. If the lobbyist’s registration is suspended, the individual may be barred from lobbying at the county level for a maximum of three years.

Lobbyists who become county employees can not participate in cases, contracts or other matters related to their lobbying work for a year.

The proposal also brings all county commissions and boards under the county’s conflict of interest ethics law.

Members of commissions and boards have to file financial disclosure statements, but the ethics commission couldn’t do anything about conflicts of interest since the code didn’t explicitly include those groups, said Bernie Marczyk, county government affairs officer.