Ethics Commission Complaint Still Causing Confusion

The subject of the Ethics Commission complaint against Commissioner Mary Jo Jablonski occupied the attention of the town board for a second meeting.  When the mayor asked for public comments Bob Litzenberg once again asked where the complaint he’d filed 6-weeks ago stood, since town still hadn’t responded to his letter. 

That, as it did last time, caused some interesting exchanges that still indicate there’s confusion around how the town is handling this complaint and how they generally should handle such situations.  Commissioner Jablonski added that she too hadn’t been contacted for the investigation and didn’t know what the complaint was about.  Bob clarified that matter for the puzzled elected official by saying that it was a conflict of interest concerning her role as a town commissioner and as the Director of the Elkton Alliance, a group that receives substantial funding from the town.  When she votes on the budget for the Alliance while also serving as the full-time Main Street Manager and Alliance Director, there is a conflict he elaborated.

With the preliminaries out of the way, an exchange with the town attorney got underway.  He tried to make the point that the board gives the fire company money so by that reasoning members of the board that are also with the fire company wouldn’t be able to vote on the budget.  Bob quickly dismissed that assertion by pointing out that none of the fire company members are paid for their services.  When he pointed out that they do it as volunteers, that line of thinking died quickly away.  Commissioner Jablosnki added that the town only funds one-third of the Alliances budget, and the conversation continued along these lines with supporting points being made by officals as Bob dismissed them. 

This exchange was going no where as officials would provide a justification and Bob would say something like, well they are all volunteers, so they’re not getting paid for doing this.  To bring some clarity back to the situation which was sort of stalled on this Wed. evening as a line of thunderstorms neared Elkton, he once again asked where the investigation stood since these exchanges weren’t helping anyone understand anything.  Well they’d tried to meet but hadn’t been able to someone from the professional staff side of the room side.  But that’s what you said last time, the citizen remarked.  He also added that one member of the Ethics Commission told him that he hadn’t been able to get in contact with all the other members of the board.  This member said one member of the commission wasn’t returning his call, while he’d talked with the third person about the complaint.

As a thunderstorm neared Elkton and lightning flashed out in the direction of the Chesapeake Bay, this discussion came to a confusing close as it did last time.  The citizen finally said we’ll just have to wait and see what the Ethics Commission has to say when it issues its ruling.  That was the way Bob wrapped it up for the political leadership, the paid staff, and the attorney since clarity was not going to come out of the meeting on this stormy Cecil County evening.

——–

Since Ethics Commission Complaints in local government are important stories, so we’ll stay on this one until we get it fully pieced together.  The Whig was there for both of these meetings too so on such an important small town story we assume they’re working hard on bringing news to their readers and subscribers.  There were a number of other worthy items at the meeting this evening too, so we’ll continue moving those over the next several days.

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6 responses to “Ethics Commission Complaint Still Causing Confusion

  1. Crazy Old History Teacher

    That was thunder and lightening the other night!? I thought it was Commissioner Storke going after Joe Fisona at the meeting!

  2. Crazy History Teacher:

    No, it was not Commissioner Storke. You apparently weren’t at the meeting because Commissioner Storke didn’t say a word on this subject. All the interesting exchanges were between the town sttorney, Commissioner Jablonski and the citizen, Bob Litzenberg. Bob handled it all very professionally but it can be challenging to disagree with a room full of officials. You’re the only person up there presenting and the Mayor and Commissioners have their entire board, along with a staff of five to eight professionals in the room to help bail them out or challenge your assertions.

    I will say that I always found the town’s paid staff to be very professional, but they’re charged with serving the elected politicans. I’m sure that can be stressful from their standpoint too.

    I recall when I was involved in trying to protect the public parking land, which the town and the Elkton Alliance wanted to hand over to a developer. You’d go up without a supporting team to make your points and have to debate with an entire cluster of people, many of them competent professionals with years of experience in working with things like public land policy, open meeting laws, etc. Commissioner Storke was the one official that was supportive of the cause I was working on and that was great to have at least one official supporting the argument while the others challenged everything.

    But it all worked out in the end on the property. Commissiner Jablonski generally lead the way on this land transaction and according to information entered into the debate at the time, the idea was hatched at the Elkton Alliance/Chamber, which is our Main Street program, a program of the National Historic Trust to presrve our old towns!

    In terms of looking out for the broad public interest, Crazy History Teacher the citizens of Elkton are lucky to have someone like Comm. Storke. While I don’t always agree with him, I truly believe he’s trying to look out for the broad public interest. The one thing about that public official is you’ll always know where he stands on something. He’s rather straightforward in stating what he thinks and he doesn’t soften his opinions at all.

  3. Well there ya go again Joe. Can’t your administratration make sure this is handled routinely.

  4. Mike,
    Responding here, rather than on the other thread, to your question to me regarding this ethics complaint question/media coverage. I figured those interested in the issue would find it here rather than there.
    There is a court case/decision in New Jersey recently that held it is not enough for a newspaper or website or blogger to simply report an allegation made by someone to a government agency or even a court, without a court or government agency actually taking action on it. That is a big change from what the court thinking has been in the past.
    So for a newspaper to report that someone has filed a complaint and repeat the allegations, may not get them off the legal hook– they would need to do some independent fact checking on the issue at hand and reach some conclusions. But if the official body took some action, like issuing a ruling or setting a case for trial, then the reporters would be OK.
    I do not know if the Whig had this court case in mind (probably not) in declining to report on this Elkton matter. I am sure, however, that the Australian owners of the Whig wouldn’t want to spend 2 cents thinking about legal questions.
    But this is an observation tghat sometgimes things are not as easy as they might seem, if you don’t have a lawyer on retainer or a big libel insurance policy. Most bloggers have neither.,
    But then, of course, some lawyers-bloggers feel free to publish anything they dream up in the dark hours of the night, knowing it will only cost them $50 to file something, anything, in court– with full legal “privilege” –while the targets of their attacks will have to spend tons of money to defend themselves against the lawyer-blogger.

  5. Here is a link to information on the New Jersey case mentioned previously:

    http://www.internetdefamationlawblog.com/2008/12/salzano-v-north.html

  6. Lousie:

    Thanks for the insight. I just checked out the link.

    What’s interesting in the Elkton situation is that officials seem to be forcing the citizen to make this play out in meetings that are governed under MD’s Open Meeting Act. These video-taped meetings are regulated by that act and are open to the public. They’re actually making it painful. If I were involved I’d move to get the process moving in accordance with protocols established by the State Ethics Commission and behind me. Every story has a half-life so get it over with, but here we don’t have too much print coverage to worry about that concept.

    The officials actually end up creating debate about the subject in front of the public when they could easily, by their actions, take the subject into closed meetings, in agreement with the laws. They are often the ones making the comments.

    Still can’t imagine why the Whig wouldn’t cover that. Any citizen can walk in and ask for a copy of the video recording and everyone there is a witness. They don’t have to add to the complaint, as the outlet dod in NJ, but just report that a complaint has been filed. Though by listening to the remarks of officials they’d know plenty to report. Then just report the facts about what the decision is.

    This area of new media laws is interesting. There was an interesting decision decided in favor of a controversial and aggressive blogger in Salisbury, which was just decided. That one involved a defamation suit by the Mayor of Salisbury. There was much larger case decided by the Appeals Court that came out of Centreville and involed the Delaware State News. In that case, the defendant wanted the newspaper to reveal the names of those posting on the web site. The paper won that case too.

    Interesting times because of the wide open nature of this environment.

    I’d just like to have someone report so I can decide. I can only imagine what’s going on at many of these local governments meetings of great public interest, that isn’t getting ink. You probably caught the piece about U.S. Newspapers Being on Suicide Watch in NYT. That is so true and while there are elements of this problem that are not of their making, they have more than enough blame for parts of the decline. Once they stopped pushing the content, the cycle was underway.

    Oh as for Australian owners, that doesn’t bother me at all, though it does some people. I actually thought that might help the Whig. Sometimes management is way too familiar in small markets with the key players and the reporters and the editors wanting to do a good job are held back.

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