State Expands Hyattsville Ethics Ordinance

City elected leaders–and senior city staff in some situations–will be required to file financial disclosure forms.

Hyattsville's elected officials had been bracing for the last six months to release a trove of financial information required by new ethics laws set to be implimented locally soon. Now, thanks to revisions by the Maryland State Ethics Commission, senior members of Hyattsville's municipal staff, including the city administrator, treasurer, clerk and department heads, will also have to file financial disclosure forms designed to root out conflicts of interest. 

This past March, city officials sent off a draft version of a municipal ethics ordinance and financial disclosure form to the State Ethics Commission for approval. With significant modifications, that approval was granted at the commission's meeting on Sept. 13. That means that the city council must now officially adopt the ethics law, without modifications, by 2013.

The State Ethics Commission made some heavy revisions to the city's  proposed ethics ordinance. Many of the changes are editorial, designed to clarify or expand upon the original language of the city's ethics ordinance. But some of the changes, like the language outlining the information revealed on financial disclosure forms, saw entire sections of Hyattsville's original draft ethics law replaced with new language inserted by the State Ethics Commission. 

City Council members will not have to file the 17-page financial disclosure forms until Jan. 30, 2013. The law also requires that departing elected officials for a financial statement within 60 days of leaving office. 

Senior city staff members, defined as anyone "with decision-making authority", will only have to file financial disclosure statements when the personal interest of the official could present a potential conflict of interest. Then, the disclosure for senior staff members need only address the specific area where the conflict of interest might lie. Senior city staff will also have to file annual disclosure statements to report on gifts received from businesses or contractors regulated or employed by the city. 

The disclosure forms would be public record. 

The proposed city ethics ordinance requires that city leaders appoint an Ethics Commission to enforce the new ordinance. The Ethics Commission will be composed of five members, appointed by the city council, to serve three year terms. 

The proposed city Ethics Commission would have the power to investigate charges of ethical wrongdoing, and report to state officials every year on Hyattsville's compliance with state ethics law. 

Those who violate the proposed ordinance, if found guilty by the city Ethics Commission, could be eligible for a range of punishments, from removal from office to suspension of pay, among others. 

The city council will be discussing this issue at its meeting tonight at 8 p.m. at the Hyattsville Municipal Building on Gallatin Street.


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