left open the possibility that the state Integrity Commission
may be asked to assume jurisdiction over top officials who are
in positions where they can exert potential control over the
local panel, but the consensus of participants in a discussion
of the issue at a meeting of
Council's executive committee on Oct. 15 favored having its
members 'independently appointed' as a way to shield them from
of Council's seven members who attended the meeting expressed
support for retaining the county commission, which presently has
no members or staff, but accompanying the new appointments with
changes in the way it operates. All Council members are on its
executive and other committees.
not clear where County Executive Thomas Gordon and his
administration and the unions representing county employees
stand. Asked to report on meetings with the executive,
department managers and union officials,
policy director Emily
Knearl said only that they were "very productive." She offered
no specifics and Council members did not press her for any.
Coons, who evidently
participated in those meetings, said there are "some issues that
still have to be addressed as we go forward with reconstiuting
the county Ethics Commission." Foremost among those appears to
be removing any appearance of political control. A close second
is financing the commission's activities.
All seven commission
members resigned in July in a dispute over financing. Since
then, Council has been discussing whether to appoint new members
or let the state panel take over. Citing an already heavy
workload, the state commission has said it does not want to.
Knearl previously recommended that the state keep an eye on
about a dozen top people while the county panel handles cases
involving rank-and-file county workers. If that is done, state
legislation would be needed to keep the top county officials
subject to the more stringent requirements of the county ethics
whether it would be a good idea to "force ourselves on the state
commission" and the ensuring discussion indicated that Council
members think rearranging the county commission's appointment
procedure would be sufficient to do the trick.
Two possibilities were
suggested. One would have the commission largely or entirely
composed of people who serve by virtue of their office. Examples
of ex-officio commissioners would be law professors and the
president of the Bar Association. An alternative considered more
likely would be to have such people serve as a proverbial
'blue-ribbon panel' to put forth candidates with Council and the
county executive continuing to make the actual appointments.
Council names four members and the executive the other three.
"You are going to have
to make a strong statement for independence if you are going to
get anybody who is top-notch to serve on the commission,"
Councilman Richard Abbott said.
While there seemed to be general
agreement that the commission did not receive as much money as
it should have been given, Councilman Robert Weiner and Abbott
disagreed on how much is enough.
"Council needs to step up the the
plate and appropriate enough funds for a full-time attorney and
a full-time staff person," Weiner said. He suggested $75,000 and
$30,000, respectively, as salaries for those positions with
about $20,000 provided to finance operations. Commission members
are not paid. Abbott said he thinks the commission can function,
as it did in the past, with the lawyer and staffer working and
being paid on, perhaps, a half-time basis.
"Active is going to mean more money,"
Councilman Robert Woods said, referring to Coons's comment that
a re-established commission should have such expanded functions
as an educational component to keep county workers abreast of
Councilwoman Karen Venezky said that
Council should take the opportunity "to be very explicit about
what is expected" of the commission. In the past, she added, it
"sort of wrote its own rules."
Hollins and Christopher Roberts did not attend the meeting.
Coons gave no
timetable for proceeding to resolve the issue. "We have to begin
drafting revisions of the code that will accomplish the major
points" and clarify such things as how the ethics commission's
operations dovetail with the unions' grievance procedure.