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A GUIDE TO THE ETHICS LAW
OF
QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY
for
County employees, officials and citizens
 
 

Queen Anneís County Ethics Commission

This Guide highlights and explains the basics of the Queen Anne's County's Ethics Law.  It is a general summery of the law and is not to be  read as a substitute for the law itself.

As required by the ethics law of the State of Maryland, the County's ethics law is similar to the ethics law of the State.

The ethics law of Queens Anne's County is contained in Title 8 of the Code of Public Local Laws of Queen Anne's County.
 

"No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would
certainly bias hid judgment, and, not probably, corrupt his integrity."
James Madison

General Information

What is the purpose of the Queen Anne's County Ethics Law?

Queen Anne's County recognizes that our representative form of government depends in large measure on the faith and trust the people place in their public officials and employees.

Citizens have a right to be assured of the impartiality and independent judgment of public officials and employees.  Further, they should be confident that the private financial interests of employees and officials do not conflict with the public interest that they have a duty to advance.

The trust of citizens is eroded when the conduct of County business is, or even appears to be, subject to improper influences, rather than determined solely by what is in the best interests of the people.

Duly adopted ethical rules safeguard the public's faith and trust in its government.  Accordingly, to assure residents of the integrity of their County government, the Queen Anne's County Ethics Law establishes ethical standards and financial disclosure requirements for County officials and employees, board and commission members, as well as disclosure requirements for lobbyists.

What are the main provisions of the Ethics Law?

The Ethics Law establishes:

  • Generally applicable standards of conduct in situations that present conflicts of interest;
  • Financial disclosure requirements for County officials (elected and appointed), certain employees and members of Boards and Commissions;
  • Registration statements and activity reports by lobbyists;
  • Provisions for granting exemptions and modifications to the lawís general requirements;
  • A process for advisory opinions;
  • Complaint procedures and protection for employees; and
  • Enforcement and penalty provisions.


Who is subject to the Ethics Law?

The Ethics Law applies to Queen Anne's County elected and appointed officials, employees, members of County Boards and Commissions, and lobbyists. 

The Ethics Law does not apply to certain officials, principally judicial and law enforcement personnel, who are subject to the Maryland Public Ethics Law. 

Who administers the Ethics Law?

The County Commissioners have appointed an Ethics Commission consisting of five members to administer the Ethics Law.

  •  The Ethics Commission is responsible for: interpreting the Ethics Law and advising as to its application;
  • hearing and deciding any complaint of alleged violation;
  • maintaining all statements, registrations, reports, and complaints submitted in accordance with the Ethics Law;
  • conducting information and education programs regarding the purpose and implementation of the Ethics Law;
  • granting exemptions from and modifications to provisions of the Ethics Law.
Prohibited Conduct and Conflicts of Interest

 County employees and officials will not:

  • Act on behalf of the County in any matter that would, to their knowledge, have a direct financial impact upon them, a family member, or a business entity in which they have an interest.
  • Hold or acquire a financial interest in a business entity that doing business with or subject to regulation by their agency.
  • Be employed by a business entity that is doing business with or subject to regulation by their agency.
  • Hold any outside employment or contractual relationship that would affect or reasonably appear to affect their impartiality or independence of judgment.
  • Represent any party, for a contingent fee, or lobby, for compensation, before any County body.
  • Act, within two years following termination of County service, as a compensated representative of another in connection with any specific matter in which he/she participated substantially as a County official, official, or employee.
  • Intentionally use the prestige of their office, or confidential information acquired in their official County position, for their own private gain or that of another.
Gifts

An official or employee will not:

  • Accept a gift that would impair, appear to impair, or is intended to impair the impartiality of the employee or official;
  • Solicit any gift or  accept a gift of more than $25.00 in value, or cumulative gifts totaling more than $100.00 in any one year, from any person that the official/employee knows:
              a) has, or is negotiating, a contract with the County; or
              b) is subject to regulation by the official's or employee's agency.

The following gifts are generally allowed:

  a) meals and beverages not to exceed $25.00 in value (subject to the cumulative $100. limit)
  b) ceremonial gifts or awards of insignificant monetary value, unsolicited gifts of 
nominal value 
  c) trivial gifts of informational value
  d) tickets or free admission extended to an elected official from the person sponsoring  the event, as a courtesy to the office, to attend a charitable, cultural, or political event.
  e) gifts from family members
 

The Commission has the authority to exempt gifts which the Commission determines are not detrimental to impartial conduct and of a purely personal and private nature.
 

Financial Disclosure

Candidates for elected office and certain County officials and employees must file with the Ethics Commission a financial disclosure statement upon acceptance of their appointment and annually no later than January 31st following each year in which they held office or were employed.

The financial disclosure statement asks for certain information with respect to:

  • real estate holdings in Queen Anne's County, excluding personal residence and up to one acre surrounding that residence;
  • business entities operating in Queen Anne's County in which the official or employee has a financial interest, excluding financial interests in businesses publicly traded on a national stock exchange;
  • compensated employment, partnerships or other business positions held by the official or employee or their spouse;
  • indebtedness of the official or employee of more than $1000. to anyone doing business with or subject to regulation by the County, excluding retail credit accounts and the mortgage on a primary residence.
  • gifts of more than $25 in value, or a series of gifts totaling more than $100 in value, received during the reporting period from persons or businesses doing business with or subject to regulation by the County.


Lobbying

A lobbyist is defined by the Ethics Law as a person who communicates with any County official or employee for the purpose of influencing any executive or legislative action and who:

  • spends or intends to spend $100.00 or more on food, entertainment or gifts for County officials, employees or their spouse or dependent children during a calendar year; or
  • is compensated $500.00  or more in a calendar year for lobbying; or
  • spends $500.00 or more in a calendar year to compensate another person for lobbying.
A lobbyist must file a registration statement identifying who he/she is, on whose behalf he/she is acting, and the subject matters on which the lobbyist proposes to lobby.  This registration must be filed within five days of first acting as a lobbyist and for each subsequent year, on or before Jan. 31.

In addition, within 31 days after the close of each calendar year, a lobbyist must file an annual activity report with the Ethics Commission providing information about entertainment and gifts to County officials, employees, and their spouses or children.

Lobbying registrations and reports will be maintained by the Commission as public records available for public inspection.
 

Advisory Opinions

Advisory opinions as to the application of the Ethics Law may be requested. The opinions (with the identity of the requester redacted) will be maintained as public records.
 

Complaints

Who can file a complaint related to the Ethics Law?

Any person, including the Commission on its own motion, may file an ethics complaint with the Ethics Commission.

What should be in a complaint?

Complaints must be in writing and:

  • Be against an official, employee or lobbyist who is subject to the Ethics Law;
  • Allege a violation of the Ethics Law;
  • Be filed, under oath, naming the persons complained against and stating facts pertinent to the violation alleged; and
  • Include the complainant's name, address, and telephone number.
A complaint must be filed within one year after the alleged violation or the discovery of the alleged violation, whichever is later.

How is a complaint handled?

Once the Commission receives a complaint, it will be recorded in a confidential log, not subject to public access.

If the complaint is deemed plainly frivolous or if the facts alleged do not indicate a violation of the Ethics Law, the Commission will dismiss the complaint.  Otherwise, the Commission will conduct an investigation into the allegations of the complaint or refer the complaint to the County Attorney, State's Attorney, or other legal counsel for investigation.

Based on the investigation, the Commission may decide to:

  • Dismiss the complaint;
  • Notify the complainant and respondent that if action is taken by the respondent within a period of time specified by the Commission, the complaint may be dismissed; or
  • Hold a closed hearing on the complaint.


Hearings

What happens when a hearing is held on a complaint?

A hearing is conducted in a confidential manner, unless such confidentiality is waived by the respondent. The respondent may be represented by counsel. The Commission may issue subpoenas to compel attendance and testimony of witness and to produce books, papers, records, documents or other tangible objects. 

The Commissionís decision resulting from the hearing shall include written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations.  The Commissionís decisions will be maintained by the Ethics Commission as public records and will be edited to protect personally identifiable information, as the Commission finds appropriate.  If a violation is found, the Commission may take and/or recommend enforcement action.

The respondent may request judicial review of the final order of the Commission, in accordance with the Maryland rules of procedure.  Any final order will be stayed automatically until the time for requesting judicial review has expired.  If a request for judicial review is filed, the final order of the Commission will be stayed until the reviewing court decides the final disposition of the case.
 
 

Confidentiality

Any action taken by the Ethics Commission in connection with a complaint will be conducted in a confidential manner. Following the filing of a complaint and until the matter is referred for prosecution or a finding of a violation has been made, the proceedings of the Ethics Commission in connection with the complaint shall be conducted in a confidential manner, unless such confidentiality is waived by the respondent. 
 

Enforcement

A County official or employee found to have violated the Ethics Law may be subject to disciplinary or other appropriate action as prescribed in the law.

  • The Ethics Commission may issue an order of compliance directing the person to cease and desist from the violation and may seek enforcement of this order in the Circuit Court of Queen Anne's County;
  • The person may be subject to disciplinary or other appropriate personnel action, including reprimand, censure, suspension of compensation, or removal from office.
  • The person may be subject to a civil penalty such as a fine, in addition to any other manner of enforcement.
  • The person who knowingly and willfully violates the Ethics Law may be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment not exceeding six months.
  • A lobbyist who violates the Ethics Law may be barred from any compensated lobbying activities for a period up to a year, in addition to any other sanction imposed.

County Ethics Code Draft 1.05 
 

qacc@qac.org  (mail to this address goes to all 5 Commissioners)

KIDL Web Guy Says:  Write to our Commissioners!  QAC Voter's Guide Lists Campaign Promises

 bcassell@qac.orggransom@qac.org  | mkoval@qac.org
jcupani@qac.org  |  rsmith@qac.org


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