Ethics watchdogs face complaints in Montgomery

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Montgomery County agencies that investigate government ethics are facing complaints questioning their behavior.

The computer of a transgender County Council staff member was secretly scoured by a county technology expert after a dispute over a transgender rights law, and on Tuesday, the staff member filed a discrimination complaint against the county Ethics Commission. Her boss, council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), accused the county's independent inspector general of "intimidation" in a separate personnel matter and requested an investigation.

Dana Beyer, a doctor who works as a top Trachtenberg aide, helped draft a 2007 law that bars discrimination against people based on gender identity. Now she is the first to make use of that law. Beyer said Tuesday that the county Ethics Commission has moved ahead on a complaint against her "because I'm the first transgender staffer in Maryland" and that the commission was trying to harm her political career and Trachtenberg's.

Beyer is planning a second run for a seat in Maryland's House of Delegates, and Trachtenberg is seeking reelection next year.

The Ethics Commission has found "reasonable cause" to hold a hearing into an allegation by political opponents that Beyer had threatened or tried to intimidate them during heated disputes over the transgender law. She denies any wrongdoing.

"I'm a means to an end, and that's to destroy my boss politically," Beyer said.

Beyer said the county search of her computer underscores what she sees as the commission's political motives. "You can't run a government like this," Beyer said. "If this were a murder investigation or if it was a major multimillion fraud investigation, I could understand that. But for this?"

Trachtenberg said, "The use of KGB-type tactics to undermine the function of my council office is chilling."

Barbara McNally, executive director of the Ethics Commission, which enforces the county's ethics law, declined to comment.

The county attorney's office has acknowledged in a memo that the computer search took place after the commission received the complaint against Beyer. Montgomery County Attorney Leon Rodriguez said the county does at times perform computer searches, although he would not say how many have been done in the past year.

"If it is relevant to a particular investigation, then one thing we may do is to look at e-mails," Rodriguez said. He added that legislative privilege would protect e-mails on a particular piece of legislation.

Investigators did not find anything improper in the computer search, according to county records.

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