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Title: Olszewski Announces Package of Reforms to Improve Ethics and Accountability

Reforms include public campaign financing and the creation of the Office of Ethics and accountability

County Executive Johnny Olszewski today proposed a package of reforms intended to improve accountability in county government and strengthen ethical standards. The proposed reforms, which must be approved by the County Council, include:

  • Public financing of campaigns: Charter amendment for the ballot in 2020
  • Creating an Office of Ethics and Accountability to audit, inspect, evaluate and investigate government operations in order to promote economy and efficiency and to prevent fraud, waste and abuse
  • Prohibiting certain county officials from lobbying county government for a period of one year following termination of employment
  • Posting all lobbyist registrations online and streamlining the definition of a lobbyist so the same standards apply to those who lobby the executive and legislative branches

“Baltimore County residents put their trust and confidence in their local government to be good stewards of their tax dollars and deliver high quality services. They deserve a government that is held to the highest standards of ethics and accountability,” Olszewski said.

The public financing Charter Amendment, which will require voter approval in 2020, would create a system for public financing for candidates running for county council and county executive. The program would be voluntary, with candidates having the ability to opt in.

“All public officials should be held to the highest ethical standards, and our county’s residents deserve a government that they can hold accountable. These proposals will go a long way toward achieving that end,” Council Chair Tom Quirk said.

“Good government should concern people of all political parties, and I commend County Executive Olszewski for this comprehensive approach. I am particularly interested in the concept of public financing for campaigns,” Councilman David Marks said. “The voters deserve the opportunity to decide this charter change in the 2020 election.”

The Office of Ethics and Accountability would provide increased accountability and oversight of county government by working to identify any fraud, abuse or illegal acts. The independent office would have autonomy from the county executive and county council, with an executive director appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the council by a vote of majority plus one. The proposal gives clear authority for the office to gain unrestricted access to records and information needed to conduct investigations. The Ethics Commission, now housed under the Office of Law, would be moved to the new Office of Ethics and Accountability.

Under current law, the definition of a lobbyist is different for those who lobby the executive branch than those who lobby the legislative branch. The proposal will create one uniform standard. In addition, the proposal strengthens the “revolving door” restrictions. Current law prohibits former county employees from lobbying on matters in which they “participated significantly.” The proposal will add a restriction on any county lobbying for a former County Administrative Officer or department head for a period of one year after their employment ends.

The proposals will be introduced to the County Council on February 19. The public financing charter amendment will require at least five votes – a majority plus one – in order to be added to the 2020 ballot.

Fact Sheet: Better Government for a Better Baltimore County

Citizens’ Election Fund System

County Executive Olszewski is proposing a Charter Amendment to establish a public financing program for the offices of County Council and County Executive.

  • Similar to systems adopted by Montgomery County, Howard County, and Prince George’s County, this system aims to reduce the role of large private contributions and encourage individual small donor donations.
  • The program would allow candidates the ability to participate in an optional program that would provide matching County funds based on eligible contributions.
  • The bill does not establish complete details of the program, instead empowering voters to provide input in determining the final program. The Amendment would be included on the 2020 ballot.

Office of Ethics and Accountability

County Executive Olszewski is introducing a bill to establish the Office of Ethics and Accountability to provide increased accountability, accountability, and oversight in the operations of County government.

  • The Office would exist independently from the offices of the County Executive and County Council and would have unrestricted access to records and information, ensuring the Office can fully investigate claims of fraud, abuse, and illegal acts within any part of County government.
  • The Executive Director position of this new office would serve in a capacity similar to an Inspector General and would be appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council.
  • The Office would publish a yearly report documenting investigations and efforts throughout the year.
  • This office would be included in the County Executive’s FY20 budget with plans to have Office in place by July 1, 2019.

Lobbying Reform

County Executive Olszewski is proposing policies to strengthen the County’s lobbying statutes, including:

  • Broadening the definition of lobbying to include both monetary and legislative lobbying.
  • Requiring lobbying registrations to be posted online for public review.
  • Introducing a “cooling-off period,” barring former County Administrative Officers or County Department Heads from lobbying Baltimore County for a period of one year following the employee’s termination.
  • Empowering the County Administrative Officer to expand staff required to receive County ethics training.
  • Requiring public officials required to receive ethics training to also file financial disclosure statements.

Revised October 16, 2020               
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