There shall be a Cecil County Ethics Commission, which shall be composed of five members appointed by the County Executive, in accordance with the Charter, to staggered four-year terms.
[Amended 11-13-2012 by Ord. No. 2012-12]
The Commission members shall serve four-year overlapping terms. All members shall reside in and be qualified voters of Cecil County.
Not more than three members of the Commission shall be affiliated with the same political party.
A Commission member may serve until a successor is appointed and qualifies.
The County Attorney shall assist the Commission in carrying out the Commission's duties.
The Commission, with the assistance of the Director of Administration, shall develop and submit a budget to the County Executive by February 1 of each calendar year.
[Amended 11-13-2012 by Ord. No. 2012-12]
The Commission shall be reimbursed for expenses reasonably incurred in connection with the work of the Commission.
The Commission is the advisory body responsible for interpreting this chapter and advising persons subject to this chapter regarding its application.
The Commission shall hear and decide, with the advice of the County Attorney or other legal counsel if appropriate, all complaints filed regarding alleged violations of this chapter by any person.
The Commission or an office designated by the Commission shall retain as a public record all forms submitted by any person under this chapter for at least four years after receipt by the Commission.
The Commission designates the Cecil County Department of Human Resources, acting as agent of the Ethics Commission, to maintain a file of Commission records and forms, including, but not limited to, all statements of financial disclosure, lobbyist registration statements, lobbyist gift disclosure statements, Ethics Commission advisory opinions, documents relating to an investigation, and all other historical documents. All records shall be made available for review and copying upon request of current Ethics Commission members. Documents not designated as confidential under this chapter shall be made available for review and copying by the general public, upon request and as permitted by law, subject to reasonable fees and administrative procedures established by the Commission.
Ethics Commission advisory opinions, documents relating to an investigation, and documents designated as confidential under this chapter may be retired at the approval of the Ethics Commission.
The Commission shall conduct a public information and education program regarding the purpose and implementation of this chapter.
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 State Government Article, Title 15, Subtitle 8, Annotated Code of Maryland, for elected local officials.
Any person subject to this chapter may request an advisory opinion from the Commission concerning the application of this chapter.
The Commission shall respond promptly to a request for an advisory opinion and shall provide interpretations of this chapter based on the facts provided or reasonably available to the Commission in an expeditious manner, not to exceed 60 days from the request date.
In accordance with all applicable state and County laws regarding public records, the Commission shall publish or otherwise make available to the public copies of the advisory opinions, with the identities of the subjects deleted, provided content of such disclosure would not otherwise indicate the identity of the subject. Opinions may be released in their entirety if the subject waives confidentiality.
The Commission may adopt additional policies and procedures related to the advisory opinion request process.
Any person may file a complaint with the Commission alleging a violation of any of the provisions of this chapter.
A complaint shall be in writing and under oath, on a form provided by the Commission. The Commission shall promptly acknowledge receipt of the complaint to the complainant. The Commission shall promptly provide the respondent with a copy of the complaint. The identity of the complainant shall be disclosed to the respondent at the request of the respondent. All Commission members shall receive a copy of the complaint.
[Amended 8-21-2012 by Ord. No. 2012-08]
The Commission, on its own motion, may issue a complaint alleging a violation of this chapter.
If the complaint fails to allege a violation of the provisions of the Cecil County Ethics Law, the Commission may dismiss the complaint in a signed order outlining its reason(s) for dismissal. The order of dismissal shall be sent to the complainant and to the respondent forthwith.
In the event that the Commission determines that the alleged violation falls within the jurisdiction of the Cecil County Public Ethics Law, the Commission may, at the Commission's discretion, promptly refer the complaint to the County Attorney, or other legal counsel if deemed appropriate, for investigation and review. Counsel, or the Commission, shall collect evidence relating to the allegations of the complaint and shall refer an investigative report to the Commission for review.
The Commission may dismiss a complaint if, after receiving an investigative report, the Commission determines that there are insufficient facts upon which to base a determination of a violation. The complaint shall be dismissed by the Commission in a signed order outlining its reason(s) for dismissal.
If there is a reasonable basis for believing a violation has occurred, the subject of the complaint shall be given an opportunity for a hearing conducted in accordance with the applicable County rules of procedure. The Commission shall notify the complainant and the respondent that a hearing will be held on the complaint on a date specified in the written notice.
In lieu of a hearing, if, within 15 days of the notice, the respondent takes any action which may be available to cure all alleged violations, the complaint shall be dismissed in a signed order if the Commission finds such action is not contrary to the purposes of the Cecil County Public Ethics Law.
In preparation for the hearing, the respondent may use the subpoena power of the Commission.
At the hearing, the Commission's counsel shall present to the Commission all the evidence available relating to the complaint. Said counsel may also recommend to the Commission such disposition of the complaint as appears appropriate.
A final determination of a violation resulting from the hearing shall include findings of fact and conclusions of law.
After a complaint is filed and until a final finding of a violation by the Commission, all actions regarding a complaint are confidential. Notwithstanding any other provision of the law to the contrary, upon the filing of a complaint, and unless and until a finding of violation has been made, the proceedings, meetings, and activities of the Commission and its employees in connection with the complaint shall be conducted in a confidential manner. The Commission, its staff, counsel, the complainant and the respondent shall not disclose any information relating to the complaint, including the identity of the complainant and the respondent, except that the Commission may release any information at any time if the respondent has, in writing, agreed to said release.
A finding of a violation is public information.
All orders, reprimands and recommendations issued by the Commission shall be signed by those members of the Commission taking part therein and in agreement therewith. If there is a majority, concurring or dissenting action taken, those members in agreement with the particular action taken shall sign such action.
The Commission may adopt additional policies and procedures related to complaints, complaint hearings, the use of independent investigators and staff, the use of witness and document subpoenas, and cure and settlement agreements.
For any purpose consistent with the intent of this chapter, the Commission has the power to require and administer oaths and to subpoena persons, documents and objects. These subpoenas may be judicially enforced.
If the respondent is aggrieved by a final order of the Commission, the respondent may seek judicial review as provided in Title 7, Appellate and Other Review in the Circuit Court, Chapter 200, of the Maryland Rules.
Stay pending judicial review. The order is stayed automatically until the time for seeking judicial review has expired.
The filing of a petition for judicial review:
Does not automatically stay the enforcement of the order.
Except as otherwise provided by law, the Commission or the reviewing court may stay the enforcement of the order, under terms it considers proper.
Judicial relief for the Ethics Commission. The Commission may file a petition for injunctive or other relief in the Circuit Court for Cecil County for the purpose of requiring compliance with the provisions of this chapter.
The Commission may grant exemptions to or modifications of the conflict of interest and financial disclosure provisions of this chapter to officials or employees serving as members of County boards and commissions, when the Commission finds that the exemption or modification would not be contrary to the purposes of this chapter, and the application of this chapter would:
The Commission may: