Elected officials in Hyattsville will soon have to fill out an extensive 17-page financial disclosure form, required by a new code of ethics.
The new code, mandated by the state legislature, was crafted by City Attorney Richard Colaresi. He informed the City Council at Monday’s meeting that it was ready to be sent to the state ethics commission for approval, after which Hyattsville will formally adopt the code.
“It’s based mostly on their model ordinance for a city like Hyattsville,” said Colaresi after the meeting. “We don’t know how long it will take. They just started approving ordinances that were submitted to them in October.”
The code is designed to prevent conflicts of interest between city officials and private interests. A new city ethics commission will be established to enforce the disclosure rules.
The financial form requires officials to disclose any interest they have in property, business and shares of a company. In addition, officials must disclose any gifts they received from people doing business with the city, as well as any interest their relatives have in entities doing business with the city.
Tartaro said that while ethics reporting is important, it can result in an unwanted burden for council members.
“We’ve never had an incident where this would be an issue,” he said. “It’s not like I have anything to hide.”
Council member Shani Warner had some reservations about the new code, saying it intrudes on the privacy of family members of city officials who did not put themselves in the public sphere and may cause residents to reconsider running for public office.
“Prince George’s County has issues with corruption, there’s no question about that, and I think we need to be sensitive and bend over backwards to show that we’re doing everything above board,” Warner said. “But I do have some concern that you’ll have qualified people in the city of Hyattsville who will think twice about running to be on the council because of these disclosure requirements.”
Tartaro echoed Warner’s concern about the form discouraging participation in government, but said the council will follow the new requirements.
“Everyone on the council is honest,” he said. “Everyone would prefer not to have to fill out 20 pages of paperwork but it is what it is.”