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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Council to continue search for attorney for ethics issues

SALISBURY -- The City Council will continue its search for an attorney to handle several ethics complaints filed against its members.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell suggested at Monday's work session that the council ask the Ethics Commission or the Mayor's Office to choose an attorney, "given the conflict that is presented in trying to find someone to help resolve the conflict."
However, Council President Terry Cohen said she is not sure the body can delegate a charter authority, such as the council's to make these appointments.
"At this stage in the game, it's not about making a selection, but finding someone for whom (it) doesn't represent the conflict being alleged," Cohen said. "Given this is the Eastern Shore, where everyone knows everyone ... that's why we asked the city clerk to do the legwork."
City Clerk Brenda Colegrove told the council Monday night that she made several inquiries with municipal attorneys outside Salisbury and/or Wicomico County who may be able to take on the job. The attorneys Colegrove contacted are John Bloxom of Worcester County, Ken Cooper of Willards, Steve Cox of Hebron, David Gaskill of Berlin, Andy Mitchell of Fruitland and Kirk Simpkins of Somerset County.
Colegrove also contacted the semi-retired E. Thomas Merriweather of Dorchester County, who said he is not interested in taking the job.
Simpkins told Colegrove he charges $250 per hour and requires a $1,000 retainer up front.
Councilwoman Shanie Shields disclosed she knows almost all of the attorneys on the list through her former job handling legal ads for The Daily Times.
Councilman Tim Spies said he worked as a nurse for Simpkins' father throughout the last two years of his life. City Attorney Mark Tilghman said he represents Berlin's Planning Commission.
The council asked Colegrove to contact Talbot County's attorney and draft a letter to the Worcester County Commissioners, as Bloxom is not permitted to take outside jobs without their consent.
"If (the commissioners) don't allow Bloxom to have outside interests except in special circumstances, that could actually be a good thing," Cohen said. "He's less likely to have conflicts because he's an exclusive attorney."
The council will also contact the Maryland Municipal League for suggestions.
Cohen said the council should aim to have an attorney lined up by the end of the week.
Cohen, Council Vice President Debbie Campbell, Shields, Spies and Tilghman have ethics complaints filed against them; therefore, legal counsel must be hired.
Shields filed a complaint against Spies on Jan. 10 for participating in discussions regarding rental inspection legislation and appointment of a new city attorney while he's involved in litigation with the city. In turn, Spies filed a complaint against Shields on Jan. 13 regarding her financial relationship with her landlord.
Former council president Mike Dunn filed complaints against Campbell, Cohen, Spies and Tilghman on Jan. 24, the day after Tilghman was appointed city attorney. In his complaint, Dunn lists several alleged conflicts of interest regarding the three council members, including campaign contributions and other political support from the Tilghman family, as well as Spies' voting on legal counsel matters while involved in litigation with the city.

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