Another My Hero Award
Not for the first time, State’s Attorney Scott Rolle wins My Hero Award for the week, an announcement that might catch him by surprise. Over the years we’ve had our differences: notably when he decided to challenge Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a man whose strong concern for people I greatly admire. (Politics are less important to me than human beings.)
My general public admiration for Mr. Rolle went up a sizeable blip when he revealed an investigation found two Emmitsburg commissioners innocent of all charges by the town Ethics Committee that claimed they had “overstepped their authority.”
Central to the story was the fact the committee’s chairman, Ted Brennan, was defeated in 2003 by one of the accused commissioners, Art Elder. From the published details, it is possible to assume that Commissioner Bill O’Neill came under fire chiefly because he had worked with Mr. Elder to resolve a resident’s problem with the town staff.
Not by coincidence, I’m sure, Mr. Brennan managed to issue a report shortly before this April’s voting which found Mr. Elder and his “accomplice,” Mr. O’Neill, guilty of violating the ethical standards Emmitsburg demands of public officials.
“I have some personal opinions about the case,” Mr. Rolle said, as reported by The Frederick News-Post. “One thing disturbing to me, the ethics committee had been headed by a person who lost to a person he was investigating.
“I wouldn’t have done things that way,” the state’s attorney said.
Three weeks of his office’s time went into reviewing the matter, and some $15-20,000 of Emmitsburg taxpayers’ money.
Even before the state’s attorney checked it out, the committee’s proof was under heavy suspicion because “numerous people” named in the report, including the accused, had not been interviewed by the ethics panel.
Mr. O’Neill’s published reaction: “They didn’t want me to testify because there was no substance, nothing.” He added: “I’ve been dragged through the mud. For what? I want the stuff to go away. I want to have my honor and name back.”
Scott Rolle’s unequivocal finding of absolutely no wrong-doing was a major help in restoring the two gentlemen’s damaged reputations. I have another committee I wish he would check out.
On the same day the Emmitsburg story appeared, the community learned the Frederick County Ethics Commission had once again patted Commissioners President John (Lennie) Thompson on his head, declaring him free of all sin and evil.
Fellow commissioners had registered their disapproval with the commissioner president’s climbing on the other side of the table to lobby for one of his many crusades. This time Mr. Thompson was insisting changes must be made in the ethics ordinance.
As customary, the targets were all those who disagree with the former Walkersville burgess. Along with his fellow Eastern potentates, he believes free speech and association are too valuable to be wasted on the rest of us, including his colleagues. That’s essentially what his proposed changes were about.
A majority of the commissioners objected, not unnaturally, feeling they needed no lecture on how they should conduct themselves. John Lovell derided Mr. Thompson’s white suit, characterized as a deliberate attempt to set Lennie apart as pure of heart and unsullied.
Mike Cady publicly allowed as how he thought the president had “a conflict of interest,” handing over his gavel (to Vice President Cady) while he hectored the other commissioners for altering rules in a way that would essentially limit their funding and support bases; his would remain intact. Surprise!
Ordinance changes should be properly presented by the county attorney, Mr. Cady said, which would ensure a balanced presentation, relatively free of favoritism for any view.
Lennie’s most recent attempt to squeeze all of Frederick County into his personal cube went down in flames to applause from his claque and to no one’s surprise. In retaliation, it can be said, he trotted off to the Ethics Commission for confirmation he had been right, as always.
Naturally, they agreed but only to the limited question of whether any commissioner had the right to argue for changes before the others. That’s what Mr. Thompson had asked for.
That echoed the infamous case when the Walkersville gentleman had asked if he might receive phone calls on his county phone that related to his income-producing legal practice. Another duh! The commission and its tame attorney refused to touch Lennie’s published confession that he freely used his county office and county equipment for private business, claiming as justification he received low wages for high demands on his time. Since he didn’t ask about those brazen violations of existing rules reported in The Gazette, the ethics gang simply didn’t go there.
On the other hand, when offered the opportunity to pursue Mr. Thompson’s chief rival on the board, Mr. Cady, the commission went beyond the chief complaint: the allegation he had solicited developers’ funds for a private event, which would be a conflict of interest.
As in Emmitsburg, the accused was never called to testify. He was asked instead to provide documents, which demonstrated forcefully the “private event” was, in fact, an Olympic-sponsored weightlifting championship for international students’ teams. Furthermore, the overwhelming bulk of the financing was provided by Olympic committees. Among local contributions, developers contributed slightly more than a quarter.
Left high and dry of any substance, as Mr. O’Neill stated his Emmitsburg accusers were, the Frederick County commission reached to where no ethics probe had ever gone before: Mr. Cady was declared in violation for offering himself as the last resort in case any bills went unpaid. In other words he simply volunteered to be willing to lose money. The situation never came up because the Olympic committees cleaned up the remaining debts.
The blatant unfairness and questionable morality displayed on these occasions by the Frederick County Ethics Commission cry out for the sort of investigation the state’s attorney made on the Emmitsburg Ethics Committee.
Scott Rolle could become a leading candidate for the “annual” My Hero Award if he would only initiate an inquiry into why Mr. Thompson and Mr. Cady receive such widely disparate treatment from the county group appointed to mind public morality.
What about it, Scott?