Maryland's Municipal Public Ethics Laws are in Danger: You Can Help

Efforts are afoot in Annapolis to gut the law that requires disclosure of town and city elected officials' financial affairs. Find out how to stop this.

So, would you like to know more about your elected officials' conflicts of interest, or less?  If some people get what they want in Annapolis this year, you'll be knowing a whole lot less.  You can help stop this from happening.

After political scandals rocked Baltimore and Prince George's County, the state of Maryland took a big step forward toward better ethics for its elected officials in 2010 when the General Assembly unanimously passed reforms that required elected county and municipal officials to start disclosing the same amount of information that state officials have had to for years.  It amounts to more information about things owned outside the officials' immediate area, and more about what their family members own.  

But that progress is in danger this year.  There are efforts underway in Annapolis to exempt virtually every city, town, and village in the state from the rules.  If it passes, municipal officials will have to disclose only a small fraction of what they're now required to disclose.

This doesn't sit well with me.  I am a member of the Rockville City Council, and I believe that we should be disclosing far more, not less.  In Rockville, we have more folks than eight of Maryland's 23 counties, and a bigger operating budget than four of them.  The Mayor and Council control all development and zoning within our borders.  We have plenty of opportunities for conflicts of interest.  I was amazed to discover when I first filled out Rockville's financial-disclosure forms that if my lovely wife owned all the land underneath our new downtown area, I wouldn't have to disclose it (full disclosure: sadly, she does not).

I am doing what I can to keep our ethical standards from being gutted.  I have written a letter to every municipal official in the state that I could find an e-mail address for, and have asked them to sign a letter to General Assembly members asking them to keep their hands off Maryland's ethical protections.  You can see these letters here.  I am also writing this article for Patch to encourage you to join in.  

What can you do?  Two big things: 

• Write to your state legislators and let them know that you don't want them to weaken the financial-disclosure rules for city and town officials.  Find out who your legislators are, and get contact information, here: http://mdelect.net/
• If you live in a village, town, or city, write to your elected officials and ask them if they plan on signing the letter I have sent them. And if they're not, why not?

The heart of my letter to Maryland's municipal leaders was this:

We are not at a moment when our residents are crying out for less accountability and lower ethical standards from their elected officeholders.  We are not at a moment where confidence in elected officials' integrity is so high that we can burn off a little surplus good will by relaxing reporting requirements.  

On the contrary, we live in an era where residents expect more transparency, higher standards, and more rigorous disclosures from their elected officials.  Maryland's 2010 ethics law was a solid step in the right direction, one that should not be reversed.  Maryland's citizens have the right to know that we are acting in the public's interest and not our own.  

Please consider taking a few moments to let your lawmakers know that you support Maryland's ethics law as it stands and do not want to see it weakened. 

Thank you very much for your time and your consideration.  If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns, please get in touch with me at tmoore@rockvillemd.gov


Tom Moore
City of Rockville

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sean R. Sedam February 22, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Good to know! A valuable tip. I'm using Safari, so that works too. Thanks for sharing joe.
Tom Rowse March 01, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Tom, thank you for writing this article and sharing your letter. I am from Gaithersburg and am appalled that our city officials are using city resources to push for loosening financial disclosure at the municipal level. In fact, this is the number one issue on the city's legislative agenda for the upcoming fiscal year--above transportation and revitalization. Over the years I have found, they have difficulty in conducting themselves in an ethical manner and their continuing actions to undermine ethical standards are making that abundantly clear.
Cathy Drzyzgula March 04, 2013 at 03:00 PM
Tom Moore was encouraged to attend the Montgomery MML meeting on February 21 to discuss why he disagrees with the group's push to modify (not get rid of) the new disclosure requirements. He declined to participate in a discussion of this important issue.
Tom Moore March 04, 2013 at 03:19 PM
Councilmember Drzyzgula, I'm not sure why you're taking a swipe at me. I simply wasn't available that evening. My kids have to see me *sometime*, and I'm not going to apologize for that. Moreover, MML's position on this issue was set long before Feb. 21 -- an MML panel had already testified in Annapolis supporting gutting the law -- and I have my doubts that I would have changed any minds in that room.
Tom Rowse March 04, 2013 at 11:25 PM
The comment from Councilmember Drzyzgula clearly shows the ethical quandary that effects the elected officials in Gaithersburg. It is clear that by making this loosening of financial disclosure at the municipal level, the top issue on their legislative agenda, they are looking out for own self interests and not the best interests of Gaithersburg or Maryland.


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