Councilman's Job Highlights Hole in County Charter
County Charter appears to offer no enforcement or penalties if state job violates County Charter.
Councilman Ken Oliver's state job may violate the Baltimore County Charter but county attorneys and council members say they may be powerless to do anything to resolve the issue before the 2014 election.
The 55-year old charter prohibits councilmembers from holding state jobs during their terms. The document, however, does not provide a mechanism to enforce the provision.
That hole in the law could set up a stand off should Oliver choose not to give up his job as a financial specialist while he continues in his third term as a councilman.
"The charter does not appear to have any mechanism for dealing with a violation of the charter," said Baltimore County Attorney Michael Field.
"How is this resolved? I don't know," Field said. "Who gets to punish him? It's not obvious who gets to do that, if anybody."
"I just don't know," Field said. "This is a new issue."
The county attorney said the matter might have to be left to voters in 2014.
Field is the senior legal adviser to both the council and the county executive's offices.
He declined to comment on whether the job Oliver holds violates the charter.
Field said the county Office of Law, which he heads, does not have investigative authority. The charter also does not give the Baltimore County Ethics Commission power to deal with the issue.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said his office may be powerless to investigate because the charter does not provide for any fines or jail time.
It’s also not clear if the courts could intervene.
“Who would have standing?" Field responded when asked if the matter could be taken before a judge.
When asked if the county would be able to file suit to force a resolution, Field said: “I don’t know.”
The council cannot impeach or censure its members.
Current council members expressed similar concerns.
The idea that there may be no legal remedy didn't sit well with Almond and other council members.
"The public expects us to have integrity and morals," Bevins said. "If we're going to have a charter we have to know who enforces it."
Bevins was also not happy with the idea that Oliver might be able to continue in both jobs in violation of the charter.
"I'd have a big problem with that," Bevins said.
Several councilmembers said they were concerned about public perception at a time when many are cynical about government officials.
"Public perception is a problem," Almond said, adding that she was saddened by comments from readers on stories outlining Oliver's state job.
"It made me feel bad to see people say this was government as usual," Almond said.
"We have an obligation to follow the laws and be diligent about that and about asking questions when there are things that seem questionable," Almond said. "It's in everyone's best interests to get this resolved as quickly as possible."
The exact nature of that resolution is in doubt.
"It sounds like there is a clear violation, in my opinion, and he can't continue to do both jobs," said Olszewski. "I would hope (Oliver) would take this as a serious matter. I hope to have a conversation with him and advocate with him to choose one or the other. I hope he'll do the right thing."