priority, discussion at a commission meeting on Sept. 8
indicated, will be to provide for fines or penalties for
non-compliance with provisions of the ethics code.
broader context, civic activist Alan Muller took advantage of
the public comment portion of the meeting to chide the
commission for what he said was its failure to deal
appropriately with "the serious ethical challenges existing in
county government at the highest level." As a result, he said,
"the commission is sinking under a cloud."
Chairman Dennis Clower responded that the volunteer panel is
"trying to do all we can do within the framework of the law."
in the meeting Clower appointed Stephanie McCellan to convene a
committee-of-the-whole to come up with a 'package' of proposed
changes in the ethics code for presentation to County Council.
That grew out of discussion about a draft of a possible
ordinance prepared by commission attorney Rosemary Killian which
grew out of the candidates' late filing .
response to an inquiry from Delaforum after the public session,
she identified the recalcitrant candidates as: Michael Shaw and
Marlene White, Seventh District; Carl Dunn, George Lossť and
William Smith, Eighth District; Timothy Sheldon, Ninth District;
Mark Murowany and Jea Street, 10th District; Christopher Reed,
11th District; and James Burton and Frederick Fitzgerald, 12th
told the commission that they all responded promptly to reminder
letters and the filings were completed by Aug. 17. The deadline
was July 30. The fact that that also was the deadline for filing
their candidacy may have resulted in the need to file a
financial statement getting lost in the last-minute rush to meet
the candidacy filing deadline, she said.
were filed by the 26 other candidates for Council and other
county offices, either before the July deadline or, in the cases
of those holding office in or employed by county government,
before May 1.
or not it was a contributing factor in the late filings, Killian
said "nobody has ever enforced" compliance with the financial
decided to do so to the extent of asking the county Law
Department whether the commission was required to not accept
late filings and thereby keep the offenders off the ballot.
County attorney Timothy Mullaney advised that failure to file a
financial disclosure report on time "is not fatal to the
candidacy" of the late filer and, if elected, he or she can be
installed in office, provided a statement is filed before the
time comes to take the oath of office.
that "no clear penalty is currently codified for late filing,"
Mullaney suggested in his opinion that consideration be given to
having County Council enact penalties.
Killian's draft proposed imposing a $10-a-day penalty for not
meeting the deadline, but pushing the deadline back to a week
after the candidacy filing deadline. A penalty is imposed as a
result of a civil action while a fine is the consequence of
criminal wrongdoing, she explained.
Commission member Laura Grober questioned the logic of
Mullaney's apparent conclusion that a late filer can run for
office and get elected so long as the filing comes before he or
she actually takes office. Grober suggested that a late filer
should be barred from running because the purpose of filing the
financial report "is so the public gets to look at it" before
deciding for whom to vote.
response to Muller and an earlier criticism from John Flaherty
and Maryann McGonegal, of Common Cause of Delaware, Clower said
the commission is unable call much public attention to its
activities because it is restrained by privacy laws to keep much
of its basic work confidential while it is in progress.
Flaherty had asked whether the commission was investigating a
report published in the News Journal in July to the effect that
Sherry Freebery, the county's chief administrative officer, had
not reported a $600,000 investment in a shopping center in
Sussex County. Clower said the law prohibits him from saying
whether or not it is investigating.
Confidentiality aids in bringing breeches in ethical conduct
forward, Killian said. "Confidentiality doesn't protect the
commission. ... It puts the commission in the position of not
being able to defend itself."
the commission was reconstituted with its present members just
over a year ago, it has issued and made public more orders and
opinions than its predecessor commission did between the time it
was established in 1990 and 2002, when its members resigned en
masse during a dispute over financing, she said. That
information is made public and is available on the commission's
pages on the county government Web site, she added.
sympathize with the public if they can't see what we're doing,"