The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the bicounty water and sewer agency, has approved the appointment of two Prince George's County residents and one Montgomery County resident to its new board of ethics. The board is charged with the task of settling debates and questions on the conduct of WSSC employees.
The three men - a lawyer, a businessman and a former CIA administrator - who constitute the board will review problems which employees feel the code of ethics does not clearly answer, said Commissioner David R. Scotton.
The code, adopted by the agency last July, specifies that no employees, including the commissioners who head the WSSC, can have conflicts of interest with their jobs - meaning they cannot with their jobs - meaning they cannot accept meals, gifts, money, or outside work from companies or people involved in business transactions with WSSC.
Any activity that gives even the appearance of a conflict is forbiddent by the code, which was adopted a year and half after WSSC was ridded with controversy over chages of unethical conduct by employees.
In February 1976, five WSSC inspectors and four construction firm officials were indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on multiple counts of bribery and attempted bribery. THe indictments were later dismissed because there was no law, at the time, stating that bribery was an offense for officials of a bicounty agency like WSSC. During last year's session, the Maryland Legislature quickly passed such a law.
In the aftermath of the scandal, WSSC commissioners sought establishment of the board of ethics to help employees interpret the code as well as for the public image of the commission.
"Nineteen seventy-six was a very bad year from a public image standpoint," said Scotton, who with Commissioner Andrew M. Vislosky, interveiewed the board candidates.
"I hope (the board) will bring to people's attention that WSSC has changed in the last year," said Very Berkman, chairman of the agency. "We know there is a public standard of morality and we want to conform to it."
Berkman said the shadow cast over WSSC during a probe of the bribery charges by Montgomery COunty State's Attorney Andrew Sonner "really did bad, bad things to morale. People said to employees, 'Oh, you work for WSSC?' Now, they can be proud of it."
The ethics board members, selected for staggered terms of office, none exceeding three years, are Edward B. Layne, a Rockville lawyer and former president of the Montgomery County Bar Association; Leonard P. Payne, of Hillcrest Heights, a retired personnel administrator for the CIA and a retired official of the Veterans Administration, and Richard West, a Temple Hills businessman who is manager and part-owner of a family owned shopping center in Suitland.
"We were looking for someone with good standing in the community who was not involved politically who was not involved the community who was not involved politically," explained Scotton. "We were also looking or someone who had some experience in this type of thing."
West has worked on ethics committees in his Lutheran church and has a degree in divinity, Scotton said.
"We wand them to be a little outsite," he added. "We don't want them toget involved with employee groups or commisioners. They should be unbiased."
"One of the aims of the commission is to prevent any situation of impropriety," said Layne, a Montgomery County resident and chairman of the board. "This is like preventive medicine."
According to WSSC General Manager Robert S. McGarry, there have been a few problems in interpreting the code of ethics, one being an employee's indecision about whether or not to sit on a town council which does business with WSSC. Scotton said there are a few cases now pending which the board will deal with as soon as they meet for the first time within the next few weeks.
In additioon to listening to cases, the board will be required to suggest any ways the code should be changed.
"I fully anticipate with the next couple of cases we're going to see a need to rapidly revise the code so it can't be interpreted so broadly," said West. "I think it will become more specific."