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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


January 14, 2016

Ethics, Oaths and Red Herrings

Harry M. Covert

When good citizens decide to stand for public office, they must get fitted for iron pants, a strong constitution and mental perspicacity to withstand assaults verbal and otherwise.

 

When people who know how to write simple sentences, ask good questions and make plenty of contacts in the public arena, they become reporters. Or if they have a little personality and chutzpah, they become journalists.

 

To serve communities is no easy task. Before supervisors, council members, burgesses or other high-brow positions become official, they must take Oaths of Office. Once these vows, promises, pledges and assurances are taken on Holy Scriptures, before a bonafide judicial officer, clerk of courts, or before a parson in the “I do” situation, the campaign victors can take a seat. Think on this.

 

I bring all of this up for the simple reason such personages of lofty nature start out with good will and desire to be wise in public matters, both public and private. These oaths should supersede further discussion of what’s right, wrong and ethical.

 

How often have we heard the courtroom lyrics, “I swear by Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” Or, “I solemnly swear (or affirm) to defend the Constitution of the state or federal governments against all enemies foreign and domestic.” And this one about honoring husband or wife ‘til death do us part?

 

Officeholders who violate their oaths commit malfeasance. They are liable for criminal and civil penalties. And in Frederick County and other jurisdictions, it’s the job of the elected state’s attorney to prosecute offenders. Fortunately, such conduct has not become popular in these parts. But you’d think so.

 

Local political followers well know Frederick County is now under a charter-style government. Lots of things have changed in the past year. The most troubling thing has been the creation of a new Ethics Ordinance. The aim of this edict is a direct slap in the face of District 5 Councilman Kirby Delauter.

 

Since the day County Executive Jan Gardner took office, she’s not wasted a moment attacking the previous Board of County Commissioners and its rulings. Her leadership is it’s “my way or the highway.” And smiling, too.

 

Shall I note Mr. Delauter is a businessman who’s company has bid and won county contracts under seal and completed projects of all sorts. The work has never been criticized, nor has it been accused of unsatisfactory performance.

 

The astonishing aspect of the proposed new county ethics code, Chapter 1-7.1, is the Ethics Commission has been given legal power of subpoena. There are no teeth in the subpoena. The committee cannot grant any immunity. Other than bad publicity and smearing people, the committee is a white elephant or red herring.

 

The ethics code, if approved, says its purpose is to prevent any improper influence, or the appearance of any improper influence. Two other council members are school teachers. They are allowed to vote on the public schools budget, which includes their salaries. Actually public school officials, teachers of all departments should be prevented from holding elected position either on the school board or the government body that approves the budget that pays their salaries.

 

Kirby Delauter and his company have been good citizens. They are well-known for good community contributions. Kirby is a watchdog of county expenditures. He has chutzpah, common sense, and he has never bought my lunch or dinner.

 

When citizens give their time and talents to the people, and do so gladly, they should be taken at their word, their honesty and veracity. Otherwise, in Frederick County, Charlie Smith, the esteemed state’s attorney, would be lining up time in the county’s Circuit Court. He and his office are familiar with the Maryland criminal code and have punished numerous people over the years who are currently in state prison facilities.

 

Public officials in Frederick County must take their vows seriously. Public officials of all varieties don’t fare well in the “Houses of Corrections.” They aren’t country clubs.

 

The State of Maryland has a code of ethics for all state employers. Included locally are the State’s Attorney, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Register of Wills and the Sheriff-for-life and his minions.

 

The beauty of the Fourth Estate is this. No oath is required of any sort, but it’s important to take good notes, keep no secrets, tell everything, attribute all sources, spell all names correctly and write punchy opening sentences.

 

Oh, and remember, the five Ws and an H.

 

hmcovert@gmail.com

 



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