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September 16, 2019

Fritzwater Immune to ‘Hot Water?’

Jennifer Baker

The Frederick County Conservative Club recently filed a complaint against Councilman Jessica Fitzwater with the Ethics Commission. While the complaint was later dismissed, questions are still left unanswered.


Members of the County Council are instructed early in their term on ethics. This year the training was even televised on FCG-TV as part of the council meeting.


They are specifically instructed on the prestige of office issues. Prestige of office would be the local equivalent to a celebrity endorsement.


They are encouraged to listen to all constituents and be active listeners on community issues, but council members are prohibited from endorsing or encouraging support of groups or charities as being approved or supported by that councilman.


Recently, Ms. Fitzwater was shown during a local protests against the Sheriff’s Department’s involvement with the 287(g) program. She was shown as not only attending, but participating in the protests after she was named in a lawsuit alleging racial profiling by county deputies.


County residents questioned how one could participate with a group actively suing the county you represent.


Further support for the protesters was also shown on Councilman Fitzwater’s public council web page after the lawsuit was filed.


Upon documentation, James Grose, vice president Conservative Club, submitted an ethics complaint against Ms. Fitzwater detailing the alleged ethics violation and compromising of county ethics laws.


All such complaints are reviewed by the Ethics Commission whose members are selected by the County Executive to review and move forward ethics violations for investigation and possible disciplinary action.


Mr. Grose’s complaint was reviewed and unanimously voted to move forward for investigation by the Ethics Commission.


While no testimony was requested from Mr. Grose, he did receive a letter shortly afterward from the county attorney, who also serves at the pleasure of the County Executive, that the complaint was now closed.


While no reason was given, the letter closes the complaint without any further course of action to appeal or request more information on why the complaint was closed after the Ethics Commission voted to move forward for further investigation.


County residents are now left to question as to what defines an ethics violation.


Do ethics violations only apply when there is a monetary benefit involved?


How partisan is an Ethics Commission appointed by the County Executive?


Future ethics guidelines will hopefully be included in revisions to the county Charter now being considered for next year’s countywide vote.


In this case a councilman has shown public support for a group suing Frederick County which could cost county taxpayer dollars should the county be found at fault.




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