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.
The key issue now before the Ethics Commission is whether Beyer did anything illegal when she confronted opponents of the transgender law. Opponents had fanned out to supermarkets around the county to collect signatures in an unsuccessful bid to overturn the transgender law. One man who signed the petition said in an affidavit that he "was starting to experience heart palpitations" after a run-in with Beyer.
Beyer calls members of a group that opposed the transgender law, Citizens for a Responsible Government, bigoted right-wing liars, and she says they have told her that they wish that she didn't exist.
While gathering signatures, the group put up a sign seeking to deceive residents, Beyer said. The sign said, "Just the facts," while supporters of the law had a Web site called teachthefacts.org, according to Beyer.
Ruth Jacobs, the president of the group, said that she could not remember the sign and that Beyer's name-calling was a diversion. She said her concerns about the transgender law have been borne out by Beyer's complaint.
"That was our concern, that that law was to give special rights to certain people and to ignore other people's rights. This [complaint by Beyer] shows that the law does what we suggested it would do," she said.
Trachtenberg said she filed a separate complaint about Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley with the Ethics Commission on Monday. In it, she points to an e-mail that Dagley sent to Joseph Adler, Montgomery's director of Human Resources, regarding a raise sought for Dagley's deputy.
In the e-mail, Dagley said a pay disparity with his deputy's peers should be addressed, and he raised the issue of whether "manager compensation should be included as a project" in the work plan of the inspector general's office. Adler wrote other county officials that he viewed that "as a veiled threat." The raise was eventually given.
"A threat to use the power of an office to intimidate public officials and obtain a pay raise for a friend would be a clear ethics law violation," Trachtenberg wrote.
Dagley said: "All concerns of elected officials about their inspector general are important to resolve. This complaint needs to be investigated by an independent third party so the results, which should be reported publicly, are impartial."
Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) said the Ethics Commission should investigate. But she added: "Tom Dagley has drawn the ire of some in county government because he is dogged about his job. The intent of his job is to root out fraud, waste and abuse, and he is doing exactly that."