Our neighbors and friends in St. Michaels have been asking why we remain concerned about the ethics issue in St. Michaels government. We’re concerned because the Town has an ongoing ethics problem.
We brought a complaint before the town Ethics Commission because we were concerned that Town Commission President Bill Boos’ persistent refusal to have the Town Commissioners even consider the skateboard park as a location for the new town hall might have been influenced by his relationship with the Maritime Museum. The Ethics Commission refused to consider what we had to say and dismissed our complaint after a secret hearing and after delegating the decision to its attorney. This was in violation of our right as citizens to a fair hearing on the facts of the complaint.
We sued the ethics commission – not the town or any commissioner – in Talbot County Circuit Court because we were denied a fair hearing. That Court found that the rules of the Ethics Commission were hopelessly confusing. In the words of the Court: “The Ethics Commission’s Rules not only fail to comply with its statutory mandate, they set up standards that are so confusing that the complainant cannot be reasonably assured of the process that will be used.” The Court also judged that in denying our complaint without a hearing, the Ethics Commission had used “an unlawful procedure.” The court held that, based on the allegations in our ethics complaint, we had a “reasonable basis to proceed.”
The court required the Ethics Commission to hold a proper hearing and it complied. We were disappointed, but not surprised, when the Ethics Commission then held that Mr. Boos did not have an “impermissible” conflict of interest. The Ethics Commission could hardly do otherwise: its Chair, Ms. Sidney Davenport-Trond, has the same sort of conflict we claimed influenced Mr. Boos. His company has an exclusive contract to broker luxury yachts donated to the Maritime Museum. Ms. Davenport-Trond is a “Platinum Partner” preferred catering provider to the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum’s interest in acquiring the skateboard park is well known. Ms. Davenport-Trond was given the opportunity to recuse herself and refused. If the Ethics Commission had ruled against Mr. Boos, it would have been indicting its own Chair.
The location of the new town hall was not the issue in the ethics hearing. Recusal in matters in which a public official might have the appearance of a conflict of interest was the issue. The Ethics Commission held that Mr. Boos did not have an “impermissible” conflict of interest. What is a “permissible” conflict of interest? A permissible conflict of interest isn’t permissible at all. There is no such thing as a permissible conflict of interest, and we expect better of our public officials.
On behalf of the St. Michaels Action Committee