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Friday, February 10, 2012

Crisfield, Princess Anne to strike deal in ethics cases

CRISFIELD -- Both towns in Somerset County seeking exemptions from a new state ethics law will get to plead their cases before the Maryland State Ethics Commission on the same day.
A hearing for Crisfield has been set for May 10, which is when Princess Anne officials also are scheduled to appear.
But getting the exemptions could prove difficult, Robin Cockey, attorney for Crisfield, told City Council members at a meeting this week.
"It's an uphill battle, I've been told," he said.
The Ethics Commission has already turned down similar requests from other Maryland towns.
Although the commission can grant exemptions to small towns in which the ethics law requirements may be burdensome, Cockey said Crisfield needs to demonstrate how it is unique.
"They've made it crystal clear to us that a generic argument won't cut it," Cockey said.
City Council members -- who adopted a new ethics ordinance in September -- decided last month to seek an exemption from new state requirements, saying the disclosure of certain personal financial information is too intrusive and will limit the number of people willing to seek public office.
Councilman Mark Konapelsky also questioned whether the council's vote was forced by Mayor Percy Purnell, who told the City Council that state grants for a wind turbine and other city projects might not come through if an ethics ordinance wasn't adopted.
Council members went ahead with the adoption of the ordinance as a result.
Later, Konapelsky said he checked with state officials who told him the city's grant applications would not be jeopardized if the city sought exemption.
In August, Princess Anne Town Commissioners agreed to table adoption of a town ordinance and to seek exemption from the State Ethics Commission.
Officials in both towns have said most residents will think twice about running for elected office or agreeing to serve on an appointed board because of the new requirements.
Under the new state law, candidates for office must fill out forms that include nine pages of financial disclosure for the candidate, their spouse and any children living at home who have incomes.
To a lesser degree, the law also requires certain disclosures by town department heads and members of appointed boards as well.
The new law also requires the appointment of local ethics commissions.

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