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.

CAP on A Miner Detail February 3

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Citizens Above Partisanship to participate in live podcast on Feb. 3

HAGERSTOWN, MD – Citizens Above Partisanship, a non-partisan group of Washington County Maryland residents advocating for candidates and issues that serve the common good, will participate in a live podcast panel discussion on February 3 at The Flying Camel in downtown Hagerstown, moderated by A Miner Detail Podcast host Ryan Miner. 

Panelists will discuss how extreme partisanship is eroding local politics and will provide solutions to transcend the partisan divide affecting Washington County. Panelists include CAP Executive Committee members Kira Hamman, Scott Bryan, and Ken Buckler.

EVENT DETAILS:

  • Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 at The Flying Camel
  • Happy Hour: 4-5 p.m.
  • Panel Discussion: 5:-6:30 p.m.
  • Question-and-Answer session: 6:30-7:00 p.m.
  • Read more here

About A Miner Detail Podcast

Launched in January 2015 by Washington County native Ryan Miner, A Miner Detail Podcast is the fusion between Maryland news and politics. It’s all about Maryland! Miner and his guests engage in a weekly no-holds-barred conversation about issues driving the conversation, featuring Maryland newsmakers and news breakers, journalists, politicos, policy wonks, prognosticators, political activists, organizers, community leaders, and more! 

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.

General Election Endorsements

In keeping with our mission to promote cooperative politics for the benefit of all Washington County residents, Citizens Above Partisanship endorses the following candidates for local offices in the 2018 General Election:

John Krowka for Board of Education

John believes in smart school spending and the need for community engagement in public education. He is a strong advocate for career and technical education, particularly in agriculture. John has a PhD himself but recognizes that career readiness doesn’t always involve a college degree. “In education, one size does not fit all,” John says, and we agree.

Donna Brightman for County Commissioner

Donna has been involved in local government for over a decade, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Washington County. As a member of the Board of Education, Donna advocated for education to benefit all children in Washington County. She has served as President of both the WCBOE and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and can work across differences to move the county forward. Donna’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Cort Meinelschmidt for County Commissioner

A small business owner in the county himself, Cort believes in smart economic development that brings career opportunities, and not just jobs, to Washington County. He is committed to combating the opioid crisis in our county on multiple fronts, beginning with quality education for our children and including cooperation with law enforcement, community organizations, and healthcare professionals. Cort’s nuanced approach to complex issues is one of the reasons we support him.

Elizabeth Paul for County Commissioner

Elizabeth has a long history of bipartisan cooperation, having worked for both Republican and Democratic elected officials at the state and national levels. With roots in rural southern Washington County, she is an steady advocate for the agricultural community as well as our emergency services personnel. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership, both of which are sorely needed in Washington County government.