Kent County Ethics Commission

(Term 3 years - 5 members)

R. Stewart Barroll, Chair 10/31/20 S. Lansing Williams, Member  10/31/18
John Carroll, Member 10/31/20 Maryann Ruehrmund, Member 01/31/19

Linda Cooke, Member 10/31/20

Shelley L. Heller, County Adminstrator, 09/29/15 (appointment date)
Andrew C. Meehan, Attorney  
Date indicates expiration of term.

 

Code

 

This Commission was created under Code Home Rule Bill #2-83.

§ 29-3 Ethics Commission.

A.    There is a Kent County Ethics Commission that consists of five members appointed by the County Commissioners.

B.    The Commission shall:

(1)   Devise, receive, and maintain all forms required by this chapter;

(2)   Develop procedures and policies for advisory opinion requests and provide published advisory opinions to persons subject to this chapter regarding the applicability of the provisions of this chapter to them;

(3)   Develop procedures and policies for the processing of complaints and to make appropriate determinations regarding complaints filed by any person alleging violations of this chapter; and

(4)   Conduct a public information program regarding the purposes and application of this chapter.

C.    The County Attorney or such other attorney as the County Commissioners may appoint shall advise the Commission.

D.    The Commission shall certify to the State Ethics Commission on or before October 1 of each year that the County is in compliance with the requirements of the State Government Article, Title 15, Subtitle 8, Annotated Code of Maryland, for elected local officials.

E.     The Commission shall determine if changes to this chapter are required to be in compliance with the requirements of the State Government Article, Title 15, Subtitle 8, Annotated Code of Maryland, and shall forward any recommended changes and amendments to the County Commissioners for enactment.

F.     The Commission may adopt other policies and procedures to assist in the implementation of the Commission's programs established in this chapter.

 

Rules of Procedure

 

KENT COUNTY ETHICS COMMISSION

RULES OF PROCEDURE

 

SECTION 1.      Commission Meetings

1.01.    General

(a)     The Commission shall meet at the call of the Chairman or a majority of its members.

(b)     A quorum consists of at least a majority of its authorized members.

(c)     An affirmative vote of at least a majority of its authorized members shall be necessary for any action of the Commission.

1.02.     Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, the Commission shall meet in open session and maintain minutes of its meetings.

1.03.     In addition to the exemptions to the open meetings requirement set forth in State Government Article, '10-508, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Commission may meet in closed session to consider an advisory opinion request to the extent that consideration of the request would necessarily lead to identification of the subject of the request, and where the subject has not waived the right to protection of his or her identity afforded by State Government Article, '15-303, Annotated Code of Maryland.

1.04.     The Commission shall meet in closed session whenever it is considering a Complaint until a final determination is made regarding disposition of the Complaint.

 

SECTION 2.     Confidentiality.

2.01.    General Rules.

(a)        Except as set forth in paragraph 2.02, following the filing of Complaint the proceedings, meetings and activities of the Commission in connection with the Complaint shall be conducted in a strict confidence.

(b)      Except as set forth in paragraph 2.02, the Commission, its agents or employees, the Complainant, and the Respondent may not disclose any information relating to the Complaint, including the identity of the Complainant and the Respondent.

2.02. Exceptions.

(a)     The Commission may release information at any time if the Respondent has agreed, in writing, to the release.

(b)     Information may be disclosed by the Commission or the County Attorney as necessary to conduct a preliminary analysis or hearing.

(c)     Information may be disclosed by the Complainant or the Respondent to witnesses as part of preparation for the hearing.

(d)     Confidentiality does not apply to referral or release of information to a prosecuting authority.

2.0.3.   Information Provided to a Complainant.

(a)     A Complainant shall be provided information regarding the status of a matter as set forth in this paragraph.

(b)     The Complainant shall be provided with a copy of a signed order of the Commission dismissing a Complaint if after:

( i)     Preliminary consideration of the evidence, it is determined that the evidence does not merit further proceedings and that

dismissal is not contrary to the purposes of the Code of Ethics; or

(ii)        Consideration of the evidence at a hearing, it is determined that the Respondent has not violated any of the provisions of the Code of Ethics.

2.0.4.   Confidentiality after Hearing.

(a)     The confidentiality requirements apply, as set forth in this paragraph, to written reports setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law made after a hearing.

(b)     When there is a finding that there was no violation of the County=s Code of Ethics, there may not be a disclosure of information absent a written waiver by the Respondent.

(c)     When there is a finding of a violation as to any allegation of the Complaint, the written report, including findings and conclusions of any nonviolations, shall be a public record.

2.0.5.   Referral.

(a)      If, while an enforcement matter is being considered, it is determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Respondent may have committed a criminal offense, the Commission may refer the matter:

(i)        Promptly to the appropriate prosecuting authority for an evaluation of whether criminal prosecution is appropriate; or

(ii)        Directly to the appropriate prosecuting authority for prosecution.

(b)      When an enforcement matter is referred to the prosecuting authority for evaluation or prosecution, the Commission may suspend action on the matter pending completion of action by the prosecuting authority.

( c)      When an enforcement matter is referred to the prosecuting authority for evaluation or prosecution, the Commission shall make available to the prosecuting authority all pertinent evidence under the Commission=s control.

(d)      Commission members may consult with the prosecuting authority in connection with the possible referral of a matter.

2.0.6.   Counsel.

The Respondent is entitled to be represented by counsel for any purpose, including:

(a)      Submission of any written or other materials on Respondent=s behalf in connection with the Complaint, and

(b)      Personal appearance on Respondent=s behalf at any stage of the matter where Respondent=s appearance before the Commission is permitted or required.

2.0.7.   Service

(a)      Except as set forth in the next sub-paragraph, service of any document required to be served by these Rules shall be by regular mail, postage prepaid, to the Respondent or other addressee at their last known address.

(b)    Instead of service by mail, the hearing notice may be served by:

( i)        Personal service by an individual over 18 years old, as evidenced by an affidavit of personal service;

(ii)        Service by the sheriff of the county of addressee; or

(iii)       Registered or certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested.

 

SECTION 3.     Complaints.

3.01.    Complaints.

(a)      Anyone may file a Complaint with the Commission by delivery of the Complaint to the County Commissioners= Office which in turn will refer the complaint to the Chairman.

(b)      A Complaint filed by anyone pursuant to this Section shall:

( i)        Be written, signed, and under oath, which oath shall be made by signing one of the following statements:

  1. AI solemnly affirm under the penalties of perjury that the contents of the foregoing Complaint are true to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.@
  1. AI solemnly affirm under the penalties of perjury and upon personal knowledge that the contents of the foregoing Complaint are true.@

(ii)        Allege a violation of the Code of Ethics by an official employee or any other person subject to the jurisdiction of the Code;

(iii)       Identify the specific section of the Code of Ethics violated; and

(iv)       Contain sufficient information to permit a preliminary analysis to be undertaken.

3.02.      Upon receipt of a Complaint, but in any event not later than ten (10) business days after receipt, the Chairman shall acknowledge receipt to the Complainant and simultaneously forward a copy of the Complaint to the other members of the Commission and the County Attorney. The Commission shall promptly meet and determine whether the Complaint should be summarily dismissed, and whether such dismissal shall be with or without leave to amend. If the Complaint is summarily dismissed, the Chairman shall notify the Complainant in writing of the Commission=s action.  In the notice, the Chairman may state the reason(s) for the summary dismissal of the Complaint.  The Chairman shall also send to the accused a copy of the Complaint and written notice that the Complaint has been summarily dismissed, and if the Complaint is not summarily dismissed, the following procedure shall be followed:

3.03.      The Chairman shall send a letter to the person complained against, enclosing a copy of the Complaint together with a copy of the Rules of Procedure.  The person complained against shall have ten (10) full business days from the date of the Chairman=s letter to submit a written response to the Complaint prior to the Commission deciding whether to hold a hearing.

3.04.      The Chairman may request the County Attorney to provide the Commission with a preliminary written analysis of the Complaint, which analysis must be provided within thirty (30) full business days after the request is received by the Attorney,

3.05.      The Commission shall review and consider the Complaint, the Respondent=s response, if any.  The Commission shall dismiss the Complaint, or portions

thereof, if it determines that the record does not raise sufficient likelihood of a violation of the Code of Ethics to merit further proceeding.

3.0.6.   Dismissal of a Complaint pursuant to this Section shall be:

(a)      By order signed by the Chairman or other designated member on behalf of the Commission; and

(b)      Mailed to the Respondent.

(c)      If a Complaint is dismissed, the Complainant shall be advised of the dismissal.

3.0.6.    If, after preliminary consideration by the Commission a complaint is not dismissed, the Commission shall issue a hearing notice.

3.0.7    Hearing Notice

(a)        A notice shall include:

(i)        Statement of the time, place, and nature of the hearing;

(ii)        Statement of the authority under which the hearing is to be held;

(iii)       Reference to the relevant sections of the County Code involved;

(iv)       Statement that failure to appear for the scheduled hearing may result in adverse action against the Respondent;

(v)        Statement that the Respondent may agree to evidence and/or waive the right to appear at the hearing; and

(vi)       Statement of the Respondent=s right to:

(a)       Call witnesses and submit documents or other evidence as provided in these Rules;

(b)       Receive a copy of the Commission=s procedures if not previously provided; and

(c)      Be represented by counsel in the hearing. [A hearing notice pursuant to these rules shall be served on the Respondent as set forth in these Rules.]

3.08.     If, in a hearing notice issued pursuant to these Rules, the Commission is unable to state the matter in detail at the time the hearing notice is served, the initial notice may be limited to a statement of issues involved.

3.09.    A Complaint may be voluntarily dismissed in writing by the Complainant at any time, and such an action, if agreed to by the Commission, terminates further proceedings on the Complaint dismissed.

 

SECTION 4.    Pre-hearing Process

4.01.    Discovery and Disclosure

(a)      The Respondent has the right to inspect and to copy and document that which is accessible under the Maryland Public Information Act, State Government Article '10-6-1-10-608, Annotated Code of Maryland.

(b)      If a pre-hearing conference is not held, the Complainant and the Respondent shall submit to the Commission, at least ten (10) business days before the scheduled date of the hearing:

( i)        A proposed list of their witnesses and possible documentary evidence to be introduced at the hearing; and

(ii)        An estimate of the anticipated length of the presentation of their case.

(c)      The Chairman may prohibit the introduction of documentary or testimonial evidence not disclosed before the hearing as provided in this paragraph.

4.0.2.   Pre-hearing Conferences.

(a)      In its discretion, the Commission may direct the Chairman or another designated member to conduct a pre-hearing conference in any matter scheduled for a hearing pursuant to these Rules, either on the initiative of the Commission or at the request of the Complainant or the Respondent.

( b)      Notice shall be provided to the County Attorney, the Complainant and Respondent of the date, time, and place of a pre-hearing conference.

( c)      A pre-hearing conference shall be designed to simplify the hearing by resolving preliminary matters, and may address the following:

( i)        Matters pertaining to discovery or disclosure;

(ii)        The possibility of obtaining stipulations, admission, agreements on documents, understandings on matters already of record or judicially noticeable, or similar agreement that will avoid unnecessary proof;

(iii)       Identification of witnesses or documentary evidence, and consideration of limiting the number of expert witnesses or the presentation of similar cumulative evidence;

(iv)       The order of presentation and scheduling of the hearing;

(v)        Preliminary motions presented by either party; and

(vi)       Other matters that will simplify or clarify the issues or otherwise promote the orderly and prompt conduct of the hearing.

4.0.3.     Minutes shall be taken of the pre-hearing conference and, at the discretion of the Chairman, may be recorded.

4.0.4.   The Chairman or other member may issue a pre-hearing order that:

( a)       Recites the results of the pre-hearing conference;

( b)       Includes any rulings considered at the pre-hearing conference;

( c)       Clarifies any scheduling or related issues; and

( d)       Sets forth any other actions taken, or to be taken, with regard to any matter addressed at the pre-hearing conference.

4.05.     Comments on the pre-hearing order by the County Attorney, the Complainant or Respondent shall be filed with the Chairman or other member not later than five (5) business days after service of the pre-hearing order.  Any controversy shall be resolved by the Chairman or other member before the hearing.

4.06.    Motions

(a)      Except for extraordinary situations or as otherwise provided in these regulations, preliminary matters requiring a formal ruling shall be raised by motions at either the pre-hearing conference or at least fifteen (15) full business days before the hearing.

(b)      Motions shall be filed with the Chairman, shall be in writing and state briefly the relief applied for and the grounds for the motion and, when appropriate, be supported by a memorandum of points and authorities.

(c)      A response to a motion shall be filed with the Chairman at within ten (10) full business days after receiving the motion.

(d)      A copy of the motion or response shall be forwarded to the opposing party and the County Attorney.

(e)      The Chairman may rule on the motion at any time before, during, or after the hearing.

4.07.    Postponement.

(a)      Upon request from the County Attorney, the Complainant, the Respondent or a member of the Commission, the Chairman may grand a postponement of the hearing for good cause as set forth in this section.

(b)      Requests for postponement by either the Complainant or the Respondent shall be confirmed in writing, served on the opposing party, and shall include:

( i)        The reason for the request; and

(ii)        When appropriate, a list of at least three dates within the 30-day period following the day on which the hearing was originally scheduled on which the party would be available for a hearing.

 ( c)      Requests for postponement by either the Complainant or the Respondent shall:

(i)        Except in extraordinary circumstances, be denied if made after a pre-hearing conference; or

(ii)        Be granted only if the party requesting the postponement clearly demonstrates that the request is made in good faith and that hardship will result from its denial.

(d)      Whenever feasible, a postponed hearing shall be rescheduled within thirty (30) days of the date the hearing was originally scheduled.

 

SECTION 5.  Conduct of Hearing.

5.01.    Failure to Attend Hearing, and Default.

(a)      If, after receiving proper notice, the Complainant or the Respondent fails to attend or participate in the hearing, that party shall be considered in default and the hearing may be conducted and the issues finally determined in the party=s absence.

(b)      Within 10 days after mailing of a final decision following a default, the party may file a written request that the decision be vacated, stating the reasons relied upon.

(c)      The final decision may be vacated by the Commission if it is found that there is an:

( i)        Actual controversy in the matter; and

(ii)        Equitable excuse for the default.

5.02.    Conduct of the Hearing by the Chairman or Designee.

(a)     A Commission hearing shall be conducted by the Chairman or another member designated by the Commission.  The member so designated may exercise all powers assigned to the Chairman by these Rules.

( b)      The Chairman shall convene the hearing and shall place the Complaint, hearing notices, and other appropriate documents in the record.

( c)      Any person whose name is mentioned or who is otherwise identified during a hearing being conducted by the Commission and who, in the opinion of the Commission, may be adversely affected thereby, may, upon request of the person or a representative of the person, or upon the request of any member of the Commission, appear at the hearing to testify on his or her own behalf or have a representative appear to so testify, and the Commission may permit any other person to appear and to testify at a hearing.

(d)      The Chairman has the power to:

(i)        Conduct a fair and impartial hearing, take action to avoid unnecessary delay in the disposition of proceedings, and maintain order;

(ii)        Rule on offers of proof and receipt of evidence in accordance with the general principles set forth in paragraph 5.05;

(iii)       Consider and rule upon all motions appropriate to the proceedings; and

(iv)       Recess the hearing for any reasonable purpose, for example:

(a)       In response to request of the parties;

(b)       To allow the parties to prepare final argument; or

(c)       To enable the Commission to consider action on motions or undertake preliminary consideration of the case.

5.03.    Rights of Parties.

(a)      The Complainant and the Respondent shall each have the right at the hearing to:

( i)        Present opening and closing statements;

(ii)        Call witnesses and present evidence;

(iii)       Cross-examine every witness called by the Commission or any other party;

(iv)       Impeach any witness regardless of which party first called the witness to testify; and

(v)        Rebut all evidence presented.

5.04.    Ex Parte Communications.

(a)      The Complainant or his or her County Attorney shall be responsible for presenting evidence to the Commission in connection with a Complainant proceeding. The County Attorney shall be the legal advisor to the Commission regarding Complaint proceedings.

(b)      The Complainant, the Respondent, their respective counsel, and any other individual not involved in the decisional process may not communicate ex parte with any member of the Commission regarding any issue of fact or law in connection with a Complaint being heard pursuant to these Rules.

(c)      Ex parte communications received in violation of these Rules shall be placed in the record and disclosed to all parties, who shall then have ten (10) full business days within which to rebut them.

(d)      The County Attorney or any member of the Commission may, if he or she considers it necessary to eliminate the effect of a prohibited ex parte communication, disqualify himself or herself from further participation in the hearing.

5.05.    Presentation of Evidence.

(a)      Evidence shall be presented by the Complainant and the Respondent at the hearing consistent with terms agreed to in a pre-hearing conference or as set forth in any schedules previously exchanged by the parties in anticipation of the hearing, unless a deviation from the agreed upon process is expressly allowed by the Chairman.

(b)      The Complainant or his or her attorney shall present to the Commission evidence relating to the Complaint that is:

( i)        Relevant to the matters at issue as set forth in the hearing notice;

(ii)        Set forth in any preliminary agreement by the parties;

(iii)       Consistent with a pre-hearing order issued by the Chairman or the Chairman=s designee; or

(iv)       Otherwise allowed by the Chairman.

( c)      The Respondent may present evidence either through counsel or on the Respondent=s own behalf that is:

( i)        Relevant to the matters at issue as set forth in the hearing notice;

(ii)        Set forth in any preliminary agreement by the parties;

(iii)       Consistent with a pre-hearing order issued by the Chairman or the Chairman=s designee; or       

(iv)       Otherwise allowed by the Chairman.

(d)      Evidence shall be received by the Commission in accordance with the following principles:

( i)        The hearing need not be conducted according to the technical rules of evidence, and any relevant evidence, including hearsay of probative value, is admissible;

(ii)        Oral evidence shall be taken only on oath or affirmation;

(iii)       Evidence which possesses probative value commonly accepted by reasonable and prudent persons in the conduct of their affairs may be admitted and given probative value. The rules of privilege shall be given effect, and incompetent, immaterial, and unduly repetitious evidence may be excluded;

(iv)       Except as set forth in paragraph 5.05(d)(v) all evidence, including records and documents n the possession of the Commission, of which the Commission desires to avail itself, shall be offered and made a part of the record in the case. 

Other factual information or evidence may not be considered n the determination of the case. Documentary evidence may be received in the form of copies or excerpts, or by incorporation by reference; and

(v)        The Commission may take notice of judicially cognizable facts or general, technical, or scientific facts within their specialized knowledge.  Commission members may use their experience, technical competence, and specialized knowledge in the evaluation of evidence presented to them.  The Complainant and the Respondent shall be advised of any fact officially noticed pursuant to this paragraph and be given an opportunity to contest the fact.

5.06.     At the completion of the hearing the Chairman may, in the Chairman=s own discretion or at the request of the parties, declare the record to be open for a specified period to enable the parties to submit written arguments or other documents that are relevant to the issues presented in the hearing.

5.07.    Hearing Record.

(a)        Record.

( i)        Except as set forth below, a recording shall be made of the entire hearing.  In addition to a stenographic or recorded record of testimony in the case, a record shall include motions by the parties and rulings by the Chairman, the opening and closing arguments of the parties, and any oral decisions of the Commission that are made in the context of the hearing;

(ii)        Unless requested by the Respondent in writing, or otherwise at the discretion of the Commission, hearings on financial disclosure Complaints may be conducted without a record;

(iii)       When a recording is not made, minutes of the proceedings shall be kept which shall, at a minimum, identify the witnesses, list all exhibits, and record all rulings by the Chairman, as well as any preliminary or final Commission determination; and

(iv)       A stenographic or recorded verbatim record, or the minutes of a hearing, need not be transcribed unless requested by the Respondent or the Commission.  The party requesting the transcript shall pay for the cost of transcription.

(b)     The record of the hearing shall be maintained for three (3) years following disposition of a Complaint.

5.08.    Commission Decision.

(a)     A Commission decision following a hearing shall be made in accordance with the proceedings.

(b)     The standard of evidence in hearing conducted on a Complaint shall be clear and convincing evidence admitted at the hearing.

(c)     A final Commission decision following a hearing shall be reflected in a written report setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect to each of the alleged violations.  The final report shall dispose of all disputed issues included in the hearing notice.

(d)     If the Commission concludes that the Respondent has not violated any of the provisions of the Code of Ethics, the Commission shall enter an order dismissing the Complaint and shall advise the Complainant and Respondent.

(e)     If the Commission concludes that the Respondent has violated any of the provisions of the Code of Ethics, the Commission may take any of the following actions:

(i)        Issue an order of compliance to cease and desist from the violation;

(ii)       Issue a reprimand;

(iii)      Recommend to the County Commissioners, or other appropriate authority, the censure, removal or other appropriate disciplining of the Respondent;

(iv)      Recommend to the County Commissioners suspension of receipt of payment of salary or other compensation pending full compliance with an order of the Commission in connection with the proceeding; or

(v)        Assess a fine of up to Two Hundred Fifty ($250.00) Dollars.

(f)     An order issued by the Commission shall be served on the parties as set forth in these Rules.

(g)     A final default order issued pursuant to these Rules shall be issued as a final decision consistent with this regulation.

 

Advisory Opinions

KC-Ethics-Advisory-Opinion-2016-1

 

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