So, would you like to know more about your elected officials' conflicts of interest, or less? If some people get what they want in Annapolis this year, you'll be knowing a whole lot less. You can help stop this from happening.
After political scandals rocked Baltimore and Prince George's County, the state of Maryland took a big step forward toward better ethics for its elected officials in 2010 when the General Assembly unanimously passed reforms that required elected county and municipal officials to start disclosing the same amount of information that state officials have had to for years. It amounts to more information about things owned outside the officials' immediate area, and more about what their family members own.
But that progress is in danger this year. There are efforts underway in Annapolis to exempt virtually every city, town, and village in the state from the rules. If it passes, municipal officials will have to disclose only a small fraction of what they're now required to disclose.
This doesn't sit well with me. I am a member of the Rockville City Council, and I believe that we should be disclosing far more, not less. In Rockville, we have more folks than eight of Maryland's 23 counties, and a bigger operating budget than four of them. The Mayor and Council control all development and zoning within our borders. We have plenty of opportunities for conflicts of interest. I was amazed to discover when I first filled out Rockville's financial-disclosure forms that if my lovely wife owned all the land underneath our new downtown area, I wouldn't have to disclose it (full disclosure: sadly, she does not).
I am doing what I can to keep our ethical standards from being gutted. I have written a letter to every municipal official in the state that I could find an e-mail address for, and have asked them to sign a letter to General Assembly members asking them to keep their hands off Maryland's ethical protections. You can see these letters here. I am also writing this article for Patch to encourage you to join in.
What can you do? Two big things:
• Write to your state legislators and let them know that you don't want them to weaken the financial-disclosure rules for city and town officials. Find out who your legislators are, and get contact information, here: http://mdelect.net/
• If you live in a village, town, or city, write to your elected officials and ask them if they plan on signing the letter I have sent them. And if they're not, why not?
The heart of my letter to Maryland's municipal leaders was this:
We are not at a moment when our residents are crying out for less accountability and lower ethical standards from their elected officeholders. We are not at a moment where confidence in elected officials' integrity is so high that we can burn off a little surplus good will by relaxing reporting requirements.
On the contrary, we live in an era where residents expect more transparency, higher standards, and more rigorous disclosures from their elected officials. Maryland's 2010 ethics law was a solid step in the right direction, one that should not be reversed. Maryland's citizens have the right to know that we are acting in the public's interest and not our own.
Please consider taking a few moments to let your lawmakers know that you support Maryland's ethics law as it stands and do not want to see it weakened.
Thank you very much for your time and your consideration. If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City of Rockville