The Montgomery County Council this week unanimously approved an ethics bill that would make it a misdemeanor for county employes or persons involved in business with the county to accept kick-backs or gifts.
The county would be allowed to sue and recover damages from an individual who violates a provision of the bill. The bill also provides for a strengthened ethics commission - an existing panel of seven Montgomery County citizens who decide questions of ethics for the county government.
The new legislation, entitled Ethics in Public Service and Contracting, must be approved be County Executive James P. Gleason and would go into effect 2 1/2 months after he signs it.
At present, a contractor can give a kickback to a county employe without violating a county law, sai Philip J. Tierney, legislative counsel to the council.
"Maybe they would run into problems with state laws but there was no (county) law on the books that ran to the contractor himself or anyone else who engaged in business transactions with the county," Tierney said.
The new ethics law "expands the coverage," said Tierney. "I would say the whole area of government contracting is regulated."
The bill also gives more responsibility to the ethics commission.
"In the past we didn't have that many ethical questions, but when they did come up, we couldn't find the members of the commission, we didn't know who they were . . . they were the county's mystery committee," he said.
The new bill provides salaries for the part-time board, office space and staff members, according to Tierney.
"We would expect the commission to write up advice on rules and regulations and to process complaints," he said.
In addition to statutes on kickbacks and gifts - which must be described in any contract the county has with a business, according to another provision of the bill - there is a measure prohibiting county employes from using the official title of the county agencies that employ them for personal advantage.
The bill also states that county employes must, on their own initiative, disclose any financial benefits they get from companies doing business with the county.
Any county official who leaves his job is prohibited for a year from working for a firm with which the county is negotiating contracts. Similarly, the county employe who leaves his job cannot divulge confidential information.
The new legislation also specifies that a county resident engaged in business with the county may sit on a county advisory board so long as the board does not deal with an area involving the resident's business.