After wrangling for more than six months over proposals to tighten Rockville's ethics law, the City Council voted this week to adopt a new set of guidelines for the holding of public office, with a provision for "recall" elections when conflicts of interest arise.
The council voted 4 to 1, with Mayor Viola D. Hovsepian dissenting. She said the new laws were not strong enough to prevent controversies such as the one last summer involving her predecessor, John R. Freeland, who took a job with with a city developer. Freeland later resigned.
The revised ethics ordinance continues the current provision requiring officials to disclose any relationship their employers have with the city. It requires that officials abstain from voting on city transactions involving companies with which they are involved.
The major amendment, strongly supported by most council members and by residents during public hearings, sets up the mechanics for recall elections, which were possible before but which were not specifically outlined in the law.
Under the new measure, which takes effect within two months, residents can force a mayor or a council member accused of an ethics violation to face a public vote if 20 percent of the city's voters request it in a petition.
The new guidelines were prompted in large part by the business dealings of Freeland, who resigned, citing personal reasons, after four months of public pressure.
Hovsepian, noting that city officials and residents spent several months haggling over how best to handle the highly publicized controversy, said: "My idea of a stronger ethics ordinance was one that would prevent the city from being placed in such a situation again.
"As I see it, the same scenario could be replayed. Therefore, I cannot support it," Hovsepian said.
Council member Stephen N. Abrams disagreed, saying that the recall provision will allow residents "to make their collective judgment as to whether they feel a situation is damaging to the city." The provision, he said, "provides the citizens of Rockville with the best possible protection."
In other action Monday, the council unanimously adopted a zoning amendment to the city master plan that reduces by a third the maximum commercial development allowed along congested Rockville Pike.
The reduction along the 1 1/2-mile stretch between Twinbrook Parkway and Veirs Mill Road is in response to forecasts of increased commercial development along the six-lane corridor.
The council also approved a $100,000 loan, at 9 1/2 percent interest, to the owners of the Lenmore Apartments in Lincoln Park for rehabilitating the six, 30-year-old building.