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Councilman urges voters to speak out about lobbyists on new commission

The councilman who raised the alarm about the number of lobbyists set to be named to the new Baltimore County Charter Review Commission is urging people to contact their leaders to get those lobbyists removed and replaced with other members.

“I would encourage you to speak up and speak out. I cannot do this alone. I need your help,” Councilman Wade Kach said in statement. “Please contact your member of the Council and the County Executive by phone, social media, and email and express your concern. Tell my colleagues that the County Council needs to reconsider appointing lobbyists to this vital commission. Ask them to appoint members of the commission who are qualified and impartial. Time is of the essence.
”

[Related article: Lobbyists will have too much influence on changes to county charter, some say]

In November 2016, voters approved a referendum requiring that the county’s charter be reviewed every 10 years. The last time the charter was reviewed was 1989. Each member of the council was able to nominate one person to the commission, and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz nominated two people, both of whom are lobbyists.

The slate of commissioners will be voted up or down on Feb. 21 as part of the overall vote on creating the Charter Review Commission. Nominees are not voted on separately, and if the council votes in favor of creating the commission, they are also voting in favor of whichever nominees have been named.

“I continue to urge those of my colleagues who appointed lobbyists to change their selections to individuals who are not encumbered by, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Kach said. “The voters who voted in November certainly did not have these candidates in mind when they approved the Charter Review Commission.
”

Kach specifically took issue with

  • John B. Gontrum, an attorney with Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, nominated by Councilwoman Vicki Almond
  • Michael Paul Smith, attorney with Smith, Gildea & Schmidt, nominated by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins
  • Edward Gilliss, attorney with Royston Mueller, McLean & Reid
  • David H. Karceski, attorney with Venable

Both Gilliss and Karceski were nominated by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Smith is the son of former county executive Jim Smith.

Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said that although he did not nominate a lobbyist, he is inclined to vote in favor of the creation of the commission even with lobbyists as members.

“Some of my colleagues felt it was important to have members who were more involved with county government,” Marks said. “It is simply a difference of opinion.”

But Kach is hoping voters will change their leaders’ minds.

“If the proposed membership does not change, I will do all that I can to convince my colleagues to vote against the establishment of the Charter Review Commission,” Kach said. “The people of Baltimore County deserve better.”

The County Council’s contact information is here, and Kamenetz’s contact information is here.

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3 Comments on "Councilman urges voters to speak out about lobbyists on new commission"

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Taxpayer, voter & BCPS parent
Taxpayer, voter & BCPS parent

Mr. Edward Gilliss’ commission appointment to review a charter that guides county spending–the largest portion of which goes to fund Baltimore County Public Schools–is a clear conflict of interest that is likely to be challenged. Mr. Gilliss is a Board of Education member and BOE Chair who has the ability to sign BCPS contracts in excess of $500,000. Appointed by the county executive himself, Mr. Gillis can’t represent/advise both governmental bodies–funder and funded—impartially.

Also, as a registered lobbyist representing interests that may go before the county, Mr. Gilliss’ and other lobbyist appointments represent an additional conflict of interest and appearance of conflict: Possible personal financial gains via work for those doing business with the county are clearly evident.

See Maryland Public Ethics Law:

https://ethics.maryland.gov/wp-content/uploads/filebase/general/Public-Ethics-Law.pdf

“The General Assembly of Maryland, recognizing that our system of representative government is dependent on maintaining the highest trust by the people in their government officials and employees, finds and declares that the people have a right to be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of those officials and employees will be maintained.”

“It is evident that the people’s confidence and trust are eroded when the conduct of the State’s business [including school boards and county appointments] is subject to improper influence or even the appearance of improper influence.”

parent

Having lobbyists on the commission is wholly inappropriate. It is also a conflict of interest for Ed Gillis to do this, and serve as Chair of the BOE. He needs to choose.

Anonymous

Thank you for investigating this matter. Has there been a response from the council members who nominated these lobbyists?

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