Frederick County is about to embark on a debate on some of the most detailed ethics legislation in the region.
Our citizens task force, composed of appointees who are volunteering their time and effort, has proposed, among other things:
· Strict limits on campaign contributions that can be tied to land dealings;
· Legislation and a code of conduct that hold elected officials to many of the same rules as county employees and forbid oversight in cases in which elected officials have romantic relationships with employees;
· Conflict-of-interest regulations that forbid elected officials from being contractors or subcontractors in county contracts;
· Investigative powers for the county Ethics Commission;
· And criminal penalties for violating the laws created to discourage “pay to play.”
The county’s legal staff used the recommendations to draft an ordinance, which has been approved by the state ethics commission and is before the County Council for approval.
Frederick County, as with many other rapidly growing suburban communities around the country, is playing a fast game of catch-up between an environment of genteel “old-boy network” values in which, some say, people looked the other way when questionable behavior occurred, and residents who are more urban, cynical and have high expectations for the behavior of their elected officials.
The newer citizens, people who have put Frederick County on the list of the fastest-growing counties , expect a high level of accountability for people elected to public office.
The clash between the old culture and the new was especially pronounced in the term of the last Board of County Commissioners. Many of its actions, while technically within the law, violated the moral sensibilities of many citizens, especially those not considered “old Frederick” — or Frednecks, as some locals proudly boast. Now that the county is under a new form of government, a charter, a professionalizing of many of the functions of government is occurring.
The debate that erupts around the recommendations of the task force will delineate the clear line between past and present. Frederick County, home to Catoctin Mountain , Francis Scott Key’s burial site and, still, the largest number of dairy farms of any county in Maryland , is searching for its equilibrium in its new suburban reality.
The writer is chairwoman of the Frederick County Ethics Task Force.