- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

State employees in Maryland are required to report their financial interests to ensure no conflict with their official duties, but more than three-fourths of those disclosure reports go unexamined, state auditors have found.

In a report released last week, auditors concluded that reports filed by more than 11,000 employees and board appointees typically aren’t checked. The forms are required to ensure that any business interests and outside employment involving employees and their families do not pose a conflict with state affairs.

The problem is that there aren’t enough people at the State Ethics Commission charged with checking the reports, according to the audit.

“The commission was not adequately performing certain responsibilities to help ensure that public ethics requirements were met,” Bruce A. Myers, the chief legislative auditor, wrote in the finding, which was reported Wednesday in the Baltimore Sun.

Auditors found that the commission staff reviewed 2,600 of the 11,800 financial disclosure statements for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2004. The auditors performed spot checks on 175 employees who were required to file forms and found that 59 of them did not file in calendar year 2003 or 2004, or both.

Auditors said the commission did little to follow up with delinquent filers and issued no fines for violations of the law.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said lawmakers would consider giving the commission more resources to review the reports or hire an outsider to perform some of the work.

“It makes no sense to have everybody doing these reports unless they’re followed up,” Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, told the newspaper.

Commission Executive Director Suzanne S. Fox agreed with many of the auditors’ findings, saying in a written response that her staff is not large enough to complete its requirements under the law. Miss Fox said the agency has nine employees, only three of whom are routinely available to review the financial disclosure statements, “a tedious and labor intensive process.” Miss Fox also wrote that the agency has no information technology staff and no money in its budget to develop a new system.

Although state law specifies penalties for those who don’t file, Miss Fox wrote that it is not practical to impose them. State law allows the commission to levy fines — $2 for every day late, up to $250 — only after an investigation and full hearing.

Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, Howard County Democrat and chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees government ethics laws, said lawmakers likely are amenable to more support for the commission.

“If this is a charge we think is worth giving to a government agency, I think we ought to back it up,” Mrs. Bobo said.

• Back 400 years

Shortly after the 2007 legislative session opens in Richmond, all 140 Virginia lawmakers will board buses for Jamestown for a day of ceremonial observances.

The first-day ceremonies initiate a year of activities commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in America.

The General Assembly’s Joint Rules Committee last Monday scheduled the Jan. 10 activities as it finalized the calendar for next year’s 46-day session.

The session will be gaveled to order at noon Jan. 10 in the interim Capitol in Richmond, the Patrick Henry Building, and legislators will depart for Jamestown at 1:30.

Vice President Dick Cheney has been invited to address the legislators in the afternoon. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will deliver his State of the Commonwealth address at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Jamestown Settlement.

Queen Elizabeth II announced last month that she will visit Jamestown in May to mark its quadricentennial. She also visited the site in 1957, on Jamestown’s 350th anniversary.

• Good spot

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has been nominated to serve on the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Ruppersberger will take over the seat being vacated by fellow Maryland Democrat Steny H. Hoyer, the incoming House majority leader.

Mr. Ruppersberger said it is an honor to be nominated to serve on the committee, which is responsible for funding federal budgets including agriculture, defense, homeland security, transportation and the environment.

Mr. Ruppersberger was elected in November to a third term representing Maryland’s 2nd District, which covers parts of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties and a bit of Baltimore city.

• Guiltier still

A former Gate City, Va., mayor convicted this past summer of manipulating vulnerable residents into voting for him through absentee ballots was found guilty Tuesday of 13 additional vote-fraud charges.

A jury in July convicted Charles Dougherty of 16 election fraud charges and recommended he serve 32 days in jail and pay a $32,000 fine.

The jury Tuesday found Dougherty guilty of eight counts of aiding and abetting the violation of the absentee ballot process and five counts of making a false statement on a ballot application and recommended he serve 364 days in jail and pay $19,500 in fines.

Prosecutors said Dougherty sought out elderly and unsophisticated voters in their homes and persuaded them to give false reasons for voting by absentee ballot. In some cases, voters testified, he filled out their mail-in ballots, voting for himself.

“For the most part, what he did was stick a piece of paper in front of people and say, ‘Here, sign it,’ ” special prosecutor John Alexander told jurors Tuesday. “This is outrageous.”

Dougherty won the May 2004 election by two votes, 357-355, but received 138 of the 158 absentee ballots cast. He lost the post after his opponent, Mark Jenkins, challenged the results in court.

Sentencing was postponed Wednesday when the judge decided Dougherty should be sentenced on both convictions at the same time.

• Vote request

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, is asking Congress to allow her a temporary vote in the House next session, a partial remedy for the Republican-controlled Congress’ adjournment Dec. 8 without granting the District a full vote.

In a letter to Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, New York Democrat and incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, Mrs. Norton asked that the District’s vote in the Committee of the Whole be reinstated by the 110th Congress.

The committee vote would allow Mrs. Norton only to weigh in on preliminary votes on legislation. Its approval would require the Rules Committee to change House rules and permit the vote.

“The delegate vote for D.C. residents would bring some respect and recognition of their citizenship that they have long sought, and would provide some voting representation immediately when the House convenes for the 110th Congress,” Mrs. Norton wrote.

Congress authorized such a vote during its 103rd session but retracted the right in the 104th session.

House Republicans did not place a bill on the legislative agenda for this past session that would give D.C. residents a full vote in Congress.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, the Virginia Republican who co-sponsored the voting rights act with Mrs. Norton, has said he plans to reintroduce that measure at the start of the next session.

• On patrol

Adrian M. Fenty spent last week getting to know D.C. government from the inside out.

Last Monday, the energetic mayor-elect visited the North Capitol Street headquarters of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, a government agency notorious for frustrating builders and business owners seeking permits and inspections.

Mr. Fenty helped process a small-job building permit and an application for a business license, all the while keeping his ear attuned to improvements the department has made and complaints its constituents were all too ready to voice.

“We’ll fix everything that’s going wrong,” Mr. Fenty promised, in all his campaign-stumping confidence.

The next day, Mr. Fenty helped protect Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road in Northeast with the help of a 6th District police officer.

“Residents want to see more police visibility. They want to feel safer in their communities,” Mr. Fenty said. “I’m tightening my laces and patrolling … to get a firsthand glimpse into a 6th District beat walk.”

Mr. Fenty said his tour of troubled agencies will continue.

He is expected to visit both the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Works, where he could take a ride on a trash truck.

• Gary Emerling contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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