Bill would ban severance pay for county employees who violate ethics law

Bill would ban severance pay for county employees who violate ethics law

Other legislation would tighten policy on conflicts of interest

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After Montgomery County’s top administrative official violated the county’s ethics policy, then resigned, the county is considering two bills that address what happened.

Both measures promote transparency and clearly lay out banned conflicts of interest.

One specifically bars the county’s chief administrative officer from having any other kind of employment.

Rich Madaleno, the county’s former budget director, was confirmed as the county’s new CAO on Tuesday.

He replaced Andrew Kleine, who resigned on Aug. 11 after he violated the county’s ethics policy in how he promoted his book “City on the Line.” Kleine was also found to have continued to maintain business relationships with two outside companies while serving as CAO.

Kleine agreed to pay $5,000, then resigned. He stayed on the county payroll for six weeks after his resignation. He was appointed in 2018 at a salary of $280,000.

Madaleno was confirmed at a salary of $250,000 for his new position.

The first bill proposes prohibiting severance pay for a county employee unless authorized by law. It also would not allow severance pay for employees who admit to or are found guilty of violating the ethics law 12 months prior to leaving county employment.

“In past years, some employees received severance payments as they left county employment under an unregulated and undisclosed manner,” according to a staff report on the legislation.

The payout of unused leave, discontinued retirement pension, and severance pay under certain law would still be allowed.

The second bill — the Public Accountability and County Transparency Act — would:
● Require the executive to disclose a proposed employment contract with an appointee to a non-merit position and any employment contract with an employee currently serving in a non-merit position to the council
● Include the sale or promotion of certain intellectual property by a public employee as other employment
● Prohibit public employees who have received compensation from an individual or organization in the previous 12 months from participating in a procurement with that individual or organization
● Require public employees to tell the procurement director if they have participated in a procurement process with an individual or organization seeking to do business with the county that compensated the public employees for services performed more than 12 months before the participation began
● Require an elected official or non-merit employee to disclose in a disclosure statement, with some exceptions, the source of each fee greater than $1,000 received for services
● Prohibit the chief administrative officer from engaging in other employment

Council Member Andrew Friedson, who spearheaded both bills, said the legislation would ensure that government officials can’t use their position in public service for private gain.

“Recent events both in county government and around the state have made clear that we have areas that we must strengthen to boost accountability and transparency, and to safeguard the public’s trust,” he said at a council meeting on Tuesday.

The “controversial” practice of using taxpayer money to provide discretionary severance is “completely unregulated and frequently underreported,” Friedson said.

“[It] is rife with ethical concerns, as we’ve seen at several levels of government,” he said. “The standards are unclear and there is basically no transparency or accountability and this practice simply should not be allowed in Montgomery County.”

Public hearings on the bills are scheduled for Oct. 20 at 1:30 p.m.

Council Member Nancy Navarro said the county needs to continually review and strengthen its employee policies.

“I look forward to our conversation in the Government Operations Committee in order to again, I think, strengthen the public’s trust,” she said, “but also make things very clear, so that we don’t have similar situations as the one we had recently occur.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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