Find­ing equi­lib­rium in a new sub­ur­ban re­al­ity

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is chair­woman of the Fred­er­ick County Ethics Task Force.

Fred­er­ick County is about to em­bark on a de­bate on some of the most de­tailed ethics leg­is­la­tion in the re­gion.

Our cit­i­zens task force, com­posed of ap­pointees who are vol­un­teer­ing their time and ef­fort, has pro­posed, among other things:

Strict lim­its on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions that can be tied to land deal­ings;

Leg­is­la­tion and a code of con­duct that hold elected of­fi­cials to many of the same rules as county em­ploy­ees and for­bid over­sight in cases in which elected of­fi­cials have ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships with em­ploy­ees;

Con­flict-of-in­ter­est reg­u­la­tions that for­bid elected of­fi­cials from be­ing con­trac­tors or sub­con­trac­tors in county con­tracts;

In­ves­tiga­tive pow­ers for the county Ethics Com­mis­sion;

And crim­i­nal penal­ties for vi­o­lat­ing the laws cre­ated to dis­cour­age “pay to play.”

The county’s le­gal staff used the rec­om­men­da­tions to draft an or­di­nance, which has been ap­proved by the state ethics com­mis­sion and is be­fore the County Coun­cil for ap­proval.

Fred­er­ick County, as with many other rapidly grow­ing sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, is play­ing a fast game of catch-up be­tween an en­vi­ron­ment of gen­teel “old-boy net­work” val­ues in which, some say, peo­ple looked the other way when ques­tion­able be­hav­ior oc­curred, and res­i­dents who are more ur­ban, cyn­i­cal and have high ex­pec­ta­tions for the be­hav­ior of their elected of­fi­cials.

The newer cit­i­zens, peo­ple who have put Fred­er­ick County on the list of the fastest-grow­ing coun­ties, ex­pect a high level of ac­count­abil­ity for peo­ple elected to pub­lic of­fice.

The clash be­tween the old cul­ture and the new was es­pe­cially pro­nounced in the term of the last Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers. Many of its ac­tions, while tech­ni­cally within the law, vi­o­lated the moral sen­si­bil­i­ties of many cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially those not con­sid­ered “old Fred­er­ick” — or Fred­necks, as some lo­cals proudly boast. Now that the county is un­der a new form of gov­ern­ment, a char­ter, a pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing of many of the func­tions of gov­ern­ment is oc­cur­ring.

The de­bate that erupts around the rec­om­men­da­tions of the task force will de­lin­eate the clear line be­tween past and present. Fred­er­ick County, home to Ca­toctin Moun­tain, Fran­cis Scott Key’s burial site and, still, the largest num­ber of dairy farms of any county in Mary­land, is search­ing for its equi­lib­rium in its new sub­ur­ban re­al­ity.

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