The Montgomery County Council yesterday approved a tough new ethics code for county employes and elected officials, that will expand the powers of the Montgomery Ethics Commission and require lobbyists to register for the first time.
The measure, pending before the council since last fall, was mandated by legislation enacted by the Maryland legislature. It will go into effect next January.
Council President Neal Potter said the new law will replace some outdated and unworkable county ethics laws, including a restriction on outside interests that he said was so broad it prohibited county employes from owning telephone company stock. "It was so absurd that nobody tried to enforce it," Potter said.
Council member David Scull, who helped draft the state ethics law when he was a member of the State House of Delegates, released a statement citing specific changes that will affect Montgomery's elected and appointed officials.
Among the changes, Scull said, will be that county officials will be barred from taking outside jobs unless they first receive the approval of the ethics commission. The council exempted elected officials from that provision if the outside job was held before the person was elected, and if the job was disclosed in the candidate's routine disclosure statement.
The new law also will bar county officials from participating in matters affecting bodies in which they, or a relative, are officers, even if there is no money involved. That restriction includes charity organizations such as United Way, even if the county official's position is only honorary, Scull said.
The law also requires county officials who are also professionals, such as lawyers, to disclose to the commission any confidential client relationships that could pose conflicts.
A lobbying provision, patterned on state requirements, requires anyone who spends more than $300 or receives compensation of more than $500 to influence county officials to register as a lobbyist.
The new county law was designed to increase the powers of the part-time, seven-member Ethics Commission, which now relies on the county attorney for its staff and legal research. Commission members will get their own staffs and salaries, to be set in future budgets.