(A) There is created a Town Ethics Commission consisting of five members who are residents of the town, of whom one shall be designated by the Commission its Chairman, and two alternate members, appointed by the Mayor with the concurrence of a majority vote of the Town Council. Members of the Commission shall serve without compensation unless the Council provides otherwise. Members of the Commission shall not be elected officials, persons appointed to elective office, full-time appointed officials whether exempt or non-exempt, or Town employees, nor shall they be currently serving on any other town board or commission. The Commission shall be assisted in carrying out its responsibilities by the Commission Attorney, who shall be a lawyer, other than the Town Attorney, who is admitted to practice law in Maryland. The Commission Attorney shall be appointed by the Mayor with the concurrence of a majority vote of the Town Council.
(B) The Commission shall be the advisory body responsible for interpreting this chapter and advising persons subject to it as to its application.
(C) The Commission's deliberations and actions upon requests shall be in meetings not open to the public.
(D) The Commission shall be responsible for hearing and deciding, on advice of the Commission Attorney, any complaint filed regarding an alleged violation of this chapter by any person or on the Commission's own motion. Any such complaint must be in writing, contain the name and address of the complainant, and a signed statement that the contents of the complaint are affirmed under the penalties of perjury to be true to the best of the complainant's knowledge, information and belief.
(E) The Commission Attorney may:
(1) Administer oaths and affirmations; and
(2) Subject to the supervision of the Chairman, issue subpoenas to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses or for the production of books, papers, records, documents, other tangible objects, e-mails or other electronic evidence.
(F) The Commission may:
(1) On its own or through its designee, administer oaths and affirmations;
(2) On its own motion or upon the request of a complainant or a respondent, issue subpoenas to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses or for the production of books, papers, records, documents, other tangible objects, e-mails or other electronic evidence.
(G) The Commission may dismiss a complaint in a signed order based on any of the following grounds:
(1) The complaint does not allege facts sufficient to constitute a violation of this chapter; or
(2) The Commission has no jurisdiction over the matter; or
(3) Failure of the Complainant to cooperate in the Commission's review and consideration of the complaint; or
(4) The complaint is defective in a manner which results in the Commission being unable to make any sound determination; or
(5) The respondent, within 15 days after receiving notice of the complaint, takes any action which may be available to cure each alleged violation, and the Commission finds that dismissal is not contrary to the purposes of the chapter; or
(6) The Commission determines that no violation of this chapter has occurred.
(H) If a complaint is dismissed under division (G) of this section, the Commission shall promptly send a copy of the order to the complainant and the respondent.
(I) The Commission may determine that further information must be obtained in order for the Commission to determine whether the complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of this chapter; and
(1) Conduct its own investigation with respect to any alleged violation;
(2) Request the Commission Attorney to investigate the complaint and report all findings back to the Commission;
(3) Schedule the complaint for further review and consideration at a future time certain, in which case the Commission shall promptly send written notice of such determination to the complainant and to the respondent;
(4) Refer the complaint to any appropriate authorities for criminal investigation or prosecution; or
(5) Refer the complaint, along with the Commission's findings and conclusions, to any appropriate administrative authority for disciplinary action or other suitable remedial action; the Commission may make any recommendation to any town administrator at any level of supervision, if the Commission finds that the recommendation will advance the objective of this chapter; whether to implement the recommendation may be decided by whatever decision maker is authorized under the circumstances; if it is determined that misconduct or malfeasance has occurred, the Commission may take any enforcement action it is authorized to take in accordance with § 12-10 of this chapter or refer the matter to the Town Attorney or to the Mayor and Council, as circumstances warrant.
(J) The Commission may determine that the complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of this chapter, and that the Commission will conduct a hearing, in which case the Commission shall promptly send written notice of such determination to the complainant, and to the respondent.
(K) The complainant and respondent may, as set forth in division (F) of this section, use the subpoena power of the Commission in preparation for any hearing to be held in accordance with this chapter.
(L) Complainant or respondent subpoenas pursuant to division (F) of this section shall be issued only in response to a written request received by the Commission not later than ten working days before the date set for the hearing.
(M) Subpoenas pursuant to division (F) of this section may be issued by the Commission or by the Commission Chairman acting on behalf of the Commission.
(N) Service and enforcement of any complainant or respondent subpoena pursuant to division (F) of this section is the responsibility of the complainant, the respondent or other person acting on their behalf, not of the Commission or its staff.
(O) Subpoenas issued pursuant to this section are judicially enforceable.
(P) A violation of this chapter must be proven by clear and convincing evidence admitted at the hearing. After it has made its final determination, the Commission shall issue its written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order, and may issue any additional reports, opinions and recommendations as it deems advisable under the circumstances. All such reports shall be in compliance with all state and town laws governing confidentiality, open government, and torts. All such reports shall be reviewed by the Commission Attorney prior to their issuance.
(Q) Limitations on Commission's power. The Commission does not have the authority to reverse or otherwise modify a prior action of the Mayor, the Mayor and Council, or a public servant of the town. If the Commission finds a prior action of the Mayor, the Mayor and Council, or public servant to have been ethically improper, the Commission may advise the appropriate party or parties that the action should be reconsidered. Upon such advice by the Commission, the action shall be reconsidered by the appropriate person or public body. If the Commission determines an existing town contract to be ethically improper, after such determination and advice from the Commission, the town may void or seek termination of the contract if legally permissible. The Commission may refer the matter to the Town Attorney for review and consideration for appropriate action. Upon completion of the review and consideration, the Town Attorney shall report his findings to the Commission.
(R) The Commission or an office designated by the Commission shall be the custodian of all forms submitted by any person in accordance with this chapter.
(S) The Town Clerk shall serve as Recording Secretary to the Commission and shall provide such administrative services to the Commission as may be necessary.
(T) The Commission shall be responsible for conducting a public information and education program regarding the purposes and implementation of this chapter.
(U) Any public servant or other person subject to the provisions of this chapter may ask the Commission for an advisory opinion concerning the application of this chapter. The Commission shall respond promptly to these requests, providing interpretations of this chapter based on the facts provided or reasonably available to it. Copies of these interpretations, with the identity of the subject deleted, shall be published and otherwise made available to the public in accordance with any applicable state or town law regarding public records.
(V) The Commission shall certify to the State Ethics Commission on or before October 1 of each year that the town is in compliance with the requirements of State Government Article, Title 15, Subtitle 8, Annotated Code of Maryland, for elected local officials.
(W) The Commission shall determine if changes to this chapter are required to be in compliance with the requirements of State Government Article, Title 15, Subtitle 8, Annotated Code of Maryland, and shall forward any recommended changes and amendments to the Town Council for enactment.
(X) The Commission may adopt other polices and procedures to assist in the implementation of the Commission's programs established in this chapter.
(Ord. 06-2012, passed 11-5-2012)