CAP Pushes Back on Ethics Panel Report

At the Tuesday, November 12 County Commissioners’ meeting, the county’s ad hoc Ethics Review Panel gave its report. The panel recommended no substantive changes to the existing Ethics Commission or Ethics Ordinance, and made those recommendations without any meaningful public input. In response, CAP Chair Kira Hamman spoke on behalf of the organization at the November 18 Commissioners’ meeting. What follows is a version of the comments made there that was sent as a letter to the editors of the Herald-Mail on November 25 but has yet to appear.

 

To the Editors:

We are writing on behalf of Citizens Above Partisanship, a nonpartisan political action committee focused on encouraging cooperative government in Washington County.

One of our organization’s key priorities is ethics in local government, and we are very concerned about the county’s existing Ethics Commission and Ethics Ordinance. Members of ethics commissions should never be under the authority of the same elected officials they are charged to investigate, as they currently are in Washington County. Furthermore, as recent incidents in county government illustrate, unethical actions do not always involve financial gain, yet that is all the current ordinance addresses. Finally, there is no mechanism currently in place to enforce penalties for ethics violations, and this lack of enforcement leads directly to a lack of accountability.

We were hopeful last year when Commissioners Meinelschmidt and Keefer chose to focus on these issues and appointed an ad hoc Ethics Review Panel to review and revise the county’s commission and ordinance. We were subsequently dismayed, following the commission’s November 12 meeting, that the panel’s report recommended no substantive changes to either the structure of the commission or the ordinance itself.

More concerningly, these recommendations were made with virtually no public input. The panel held one public hearing, on Tuesday, September 10. A small notice of the meeting appeared in the Herald-Mail at the end of the previous week. That’s it.

The hearing was not publicized via the County Commissioners’ email list. It did not appear on the county’s social media channels. No press release was sent out. And neither the hearing nor the minutes of other panel deliberations were, or are, mentioned on the county web site.

Unsurprisingly, nobody went.

Leaving aside how uncomfortably close this comes to a violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act, it is inconsistent with the principle of transparency in government that we hope and trust the Washington County Commissioners hold dear. Beyond that, even if the hearing had been well-publicized, it failed to garner any input. This should have automatically triggered additional hearings and attempts to collect feedback from the community. Ethics ordinances address the very integrity of our government and cannot meaningfully be discussed, let alone revised, without the participation of community stakeholders.

Therefore, we ask that the commissioners do the following:

    1. Re-convene an ad hoc Ethics Review Panel.
    2. Charge the panel to hold well-publicized meetings at a variety of locations around the county.
    3. Offer a well-publicized and robust option to give input online.
    4. Accept recommendations from the panel only after meaningful input from a diversity of stakeholders has been gathered, and no sooner than 90 days from the beginning of the process.
    5. Finally, make all deliberations public in the form of well-publicized open meetings with publicly available written minutes.

We ask that this process begin immediately.

Sincerely,

Citizens Above Partisanship Executive Committee

 

It is our understanding that the County Commissioners are now considering holding a new public forum to discuss the Ethics Commission and Ordinance. We encourage all CAP members and supporters to reach out to them in support of such a forum, and to attend it if and when it occurs. We will keep you up to date as we hear more.

Ethics Changes in Washington County

Last week’s vote by the County Commissioners to form an ad hoc committee to review the county’s ethics ordinance represents important progress on one of CAP’s top priorities. We fully support the Commission’s decision, and urge them to adopt changes that will strengthen the ordinance and give the Ethics Commission meaningful authority to enforce it.

Commissioner Cort Meinelschmidt discussed ethics changes in the county at CAP’s meeting on March 25 at the American Legion in Williamsport. You can watch that meeting here:

Citizens Above Partisanship Releases Campaign Finance Analysis

CAP has analyzed the data from campaign finance reports filed with the state by candidates for County Commissioner in the 2018 election.

The report includes:

  • Top Contributors: Who donated the most money to whom?
  • Contribution Breakdown: Who had the most funding?
  • Geo-location: Where did contributions come from, both in and outside of the county?

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL REPORT

Government for All Citizens: Reflections on Partisanship

By Scott Bryan

Leadership that represents all the citizens of Washington County.  When I ran for County Commissioner this year, that leadership was something I believed was needed; something that was missing among our current elected officials. It seemed to me, as a novice on the political scene, that we had a Commission that was made up not only of a single demographic, but, just as importantly, of a single mindset.

As I sat down next to Donna Brightman and Bernie Semler on December 2 to talk with Ryan Miner about the election, I wondered how representative leadership for the county would be a part of the discussion.  I had become good friends with both Donna and Bernie during our campaigns. Donna had run in the Commissioner race and Bernie for State’s Attorney. I know both of them to be honest, decent, dedicated individuals who care more about the future of Washington County than about their own personal interests and agendas. Indeed, both had made tremendous sacrifices to offer their services to the citizens of the county.

I knew that I could trust both Donna and Bernie, but I was concerned that their recent defeats – after both running outstanding and inspired campaigns – would still be fresh wounds. These were wounds that I had also felt, but mine have had considerably more time to heal since I lost in the primary four months ago. I knew the purpose of the panel was to discuss what had happened in the election, our issues and concerns, and the path forward for the county in the near future – essentially, how to get that representative leadership that I believed was missing. But would the pain and disappointment of losing that we all felt, and that I thought I had moved past, return during the panel?

I was also thinking about the fact that Ryan, as moderator, had told us that he was going to ask “edgy” questions. I know Ryan to be an honest journalist who seeks the truth and does a great job of bringing issues into the light of day. But as the only Republican on the panel, and likely with a liberal-leaning audience, would I be able to get my points across effectively and professionally? And, by the way, would anyone care what I had to say?

As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Donna and Bernie and I talked openly and candidly about what we perceive to be the challenges facing our community. We discussed the effect of national politics on local politics, particularly how polarization at the national level has impacted local elections. And we agreed that although it’s difficult to have an impact nationally, we can absolutely make a difference locally. The three of us showed people that night what non-partisanship looks like and that regardless of party affiliation, personal beliefs, or positions on issues people can have meaningful discussions about important issues facing us as a community. That we can disagree, yet listen to each other and consider other points of view. Maybe we can even learn something from each other.

If there was a significant takeaway from the discussion, it was that more unites us than divides us. Anyone can indeed have an honest discussion with people who have differing points of view. Community members can ask questions of former candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the resulting dialogue may result in a widening of knowledge for everyone involved. Local politics need not be devoid of respect, dignity, and class.  Perhaps most importantly, there are people who want leadership representative of all the citizens of Washington County, and there are people willing to provide that leadership. Engagement, not disengagement, is what will move us forward.

Stay Involved. Keep Showing Up.

By Donna Brightman

The following originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Herald-Mail on November 21.

 

To the editor:

The last several months have been an incredible journey.

While the results of the election did not lend victory to our team, our message resonated all over Washington County — from Hancock to Cascade, from Boonsboro to Smithsburg, from Williamsport to Sharpsburg, from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg and Keedysville in between. The people heard us loud and clear.

We still have a voice and we will use it:

  • We will continue to push for integrity and accountability in local government.
  • We believe in ethics in our local government. We will not accept anything less than full, unabridged transparency.
  • We believe in a safe work environment for county employees, where harassment and bullying are not tolerated.
  • We believe in our small businesses.
  • We will stand by our sisters and brothers in our fire and EMS community.
  • We will champion and showcase our ag community to the rest of Maryland.
  • We will never accept corruption in government as the status quo and we will never concede an injustice. Not now, not ever.

To my family and friends: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel the love! To every supporter, volunteer, contributor, and well-wisher: Thank you, sincerely, for inspiring me, for believing in me and for entrusting me to be your voice.

Stay involved. Do not be discouraged. Show up, attend meetings, demand answers from your elected officials and hold them accountable; they answer to you.

Congratulations to the victors in this commissioner race: We trust you will serve with integrity, honor and humility.

Donna L. Brightman

Former candidate for Washington County commissioner

Garretts Mill Road in South County

 

After the Election

By Greg Murray, Treasurer to the Donna Brightman campaign

What can we say about the election? Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be difficult to get a female Democrat elected to the Board of County Commissioners in Washington County. Even so, the goal was to get the message of change out to the public and help shed light on all the issues that any candidate would need to address. That happened. Washington County is the better for it.

Looking at the vote tallies it’s obvious that the party line carried the day, but what did that say? First, the five Republicans were followed by two female Democrats – Donna Brightman and Elizabeth Paul. Their voices were heard. Second, two new Board members were seated – Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. And third, the voters overwhelmingly chose a new president for the Board, with the potential that the vice president will be one of the new members rather than an incumbent (pending final tallies, and of course the new Board must actually elect the new officers). Change carried the day. The voters wanted a different direction on the Board and they got it. Again, this is good for Washington County.

After 40 years as a Republican (I hear many of you groan), I saw in Donna Brightman someone who really understood the need to get the county back on track, and she helped make that happen. The outcome may not have been everything we wanted, but it also was not unexpected. We wanted to make change, and change was made.

Now it is up to the new leadership to carry that change forward for the betterment of Washington County. We support them in that. Hopefully we can put the nonsense aside and truly get back to business.

Upcoming Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum
Monday, May 21
6:30-8:00 p.m.

Room 334
Washington County Free Library
Fletcher Branch
100 S. Potomac Street, Hagerstown

Featuring the candidates CAP is endorsing for
County Commissioner and Board of Education:

Donna Brightman
Scott Bryan
John Krowka
Cort Meinelschmidt
Elizabeth Paul

Everyone welcome!

To submit a question for the candidates to address at the forum, please complete the form below:

Kickoff Celebrates Political Cooperation

Citizens Above Partisanship’s extremely successful Meet the Candidates Kickoff party at Bulls & Bears on Thursday, May 10 was concrete evidence that Washington County is ready for cooperative, nonpartisan government. The event was attended by four of the five candidates CAP is endorsing in the 2018 election and by more than 50 community members and supporters. Attendees enjoyed food, drink, and animated conversation about the future of Washington County. Overheard were discussions of education funding, tax policy, and economic development, as well as spirited debate about candidates for statewide office. These conversations were certainly energetic, but they were also mutually respectful, with an eye toward how to best serve the common good.

Each candidate addressed the crowd briefly, talking about their support for CAP’s mission of nonpartisan cooperation and about their individual campaign objectives. John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education, led off by talking about smart school spending, career readiness that doesn’t always involve a college degree, the need for community engagement, and the fact that “one size does not fit all” in education.

The crowd then heard from the candidates CAP is endorsing for County Commissioner. These candidates span the political spectrum, but while they spoke from different perspectives they voiced similar concerns. Donna Brightman asked the crowd to redirect the frustration they might be feeling about politics at the national level into meaningful action at the local level. Scott Bryan emphasized the importance of mutual trust between a community and its leaders. Cort Meinelschmidt talked about the need for a budget that meets the needs of all citizens, and praised Krowka for his emphasis on education that serves all students. Although Elizabeth Paul was unable to be at the Kickoff, a campaign representative spoke on her behalf about her commitment to ethical leadership and responsible governance.

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The breadth of support for CAP’s mission was further evident in the wide range of donations to the silent auction that took place at the Kickoff. From Fountain Head Country Club to Talon Studio Tattoo and with many, many others in between, small businesses all over the county clearly understand the necessity of cooperative government in Washington County. Other business donors included:

CAP is deeply grateful to all these businesses, as well as to the individual artists and collectors who also donated to the auction, and of course to everyone who came out to the Kickoff to support our candidates and our mission. Democracy takes work. It’s good to know that we can have fun at the same time!

 

CAP Announces Endorsements

Citizens Above Partisanship met Monday night to vote on endorsements in the races for Washington County Commissioner and Board of Education. After spirited discussion, members voted to endorse five candidates for County Commissioner:

In addition, CAP endorses John Krowka for the nonpartisan Board of Education.

In keeping with its nonpartisan mission, CAP’s County Commissioner endorsements include three Democrats and two Republicans. All are passionate about working across political differences for the good of all Washington County residents and are committed to CAP’s three priorities: education, the economy, and ethics.

Watch this space for candidate profiles in the coming weeks, and be sure to get your ticket to meet them in person at our Meet the Candidates event on May 10.

Update May 3: We are saddened to learn that Harry Jones has had to withdraw from the race.