An End at the Beginning….
Sometimes, it just comes down to good old common sense. And this is what happened this week with the Frederick County Ethics Commission in the matter involving Commissioner Kirby Delauter.
As a brief background, before even taking office over two years ago, Commissioner Delauter requested an Advisory Opinion from the Ethic Commission concerning how he should conduct his business now that he was about to be installed as a county commissioner. As most know, Kirby’s company, W.F. Delauter & Son, Inc., is a utility and site contractor that does work in Frederick County. It is located in Emmitsburg.
Kirby asked the Ethics Commission if he could continue to bid on county funded projects, the traditional “public works” projects. Since these projects involve county taxpayer money, he wanted to make sure he was on the right side of all of the ethical rules.
The Ethics Commission after meeting with Kirby came down with an opinion that said not only could his company not bid on county funded projects, but he couldn’t do any job in Frederick County even if it was paid for by private developers or property owners. Since jobs in the county account for roughly 80% of his business, if this opinion was to stand he would face the choice of either going out of business or stepping down from a job to which he had just been elected. Obviously, not a good choice.
Because Kirby never even considered the question of his company doing business on private projects, he and his lawyers requested reconsideration. The Ethics Commission agreed, and this time they had a full-blown hearing, with evidence, testimony and witnesses being called. I was there; it was a full and fair hearing.
After this hearing, the Ethics Commission amended their original opinion, and stated that Kirby’s company could continue to do work on properties in Frederick County, provided it was entirely funded by private sources. As long as no county money was involved, and as long as he met a few conditions to which he had agreed, W.F. Delauter & Son, Inc., could continue with business as usual.
Everyone thought it was over. But two months later, without any warning, without any notice to Kirby or his attorneys, the Ethics Commission issued a third opinion in the matter, which rescinded the second opinion, and took them back to the first opinion which stated that his company couldn’t do any work in Frederick County at all.
No one I’ve talked to had ever seen a situation where something so important was done without notice to or the involvement of the person which it most affected. Obviously, Kirby was very upset and had every right to be.
The final chapter began when someone filed a complaint against Kirby for violating the third opinion. That complaint made its way through the process, and a hearing was held earlier this month.
As you may have read in the local papers, after the hearing the Ethics Commission issued another (and I hope final) opinion in this matter, and again changed their ruling. This time, they rescinded the third opinion, went back to the second opinion, with the results that W.F. Delauter & Son, Inc., can stay in business, Kirby can stay in office, and in my view, common sense and reason has prevailed.
I can’t for the life of me understand why certain people, including a former president of the Board of County Commissioners, have taken it upon themselves to try to undo the results of the 2010 election. Approximately 37,000 people voted for Kirby Delauter to be a county commissioner. During the campaign, he was not bashful about explaining who he was. He was a business owner, he did construction and development work, and he had very strong ideas about what the relationship should be between government and business.
Whether you agree with him or not, he was elected as part of a landslide that brought in a four person, pro-business slate. It seemed to be that this was the direction the county wanted to go.
But a few on the other side, who didn’t like the results, have not been content with waiting until the next election to try to change things. They have persistently and maliciously attacked the current board, and the hounding of Commissioner Delauter under the Ethics Ordinance is just one example. Other ethics complaints have been filed against other members of the board, all of which have been summarily dismissed by the Ethics Commission. But Kirby’s case made it through the process, no less than three meetings were held with the Ethics Commission, and the case now appears to be settled. I certainly hope it is.
In making their ruling, the Ethics Commission went back to a 1987 statement issued by the Ethics Commission at that time, which comprehensively and thoroughly examined the relationship between an elected county commissioner and the community which he or she serves. They recognized then that people elected to office in a jurisdiction like Frederick County are not likely to be professional politicians; they will have ties with the community including in business, social, religious and other capacities. That’s the nature of our county, that’s the nature of our political system, and it seems to have worked rather well.
The last thing we want running for office in Frederick County are hermits who pop out of their homes only to run for office. Our elected leaders need to reflect our society. That includes business, along with all other walks of life in Frederick County. Anyone who doesn’t like the results of an election has the right to participate in the political process and try to get a different result. But that’s the way they should do it, not personally attack people who do stick their necks out, throw their hats in the ring and run for office.
Hopefully, this opinion will bring an end to politically-driven, absurd numerous complaints and proves that the commissioners are operating above board. The reality – and fact – is that all complaints were dismissed because there was no wrong doing.