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Rockville city debates ethics in marathon session

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Published on: Thursday, January 17, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE – A marathon city council meeting turned into a debate on ethics Monday, when the mayor and council discussed the latest draft for amendments to Rockville’s chapter 16 ethics ordinance.

The Council originally made changes to the draft at a meeting on Nov. 19. The purpose of the discussion at Monday’s meeting was to review additional changes made by city attorney Debra Yerg Daniel. The proposed changes are designed to bring the city in compliance with state law as required by Chapter 277 of the Acts of the General Assembly of 2010 (SB 315).

The changes required involve the implementation of a city ethics commission, providing more specific prohibitions for the acceptance or solicitation of gift and more extensive financial disclosure by city officeholders.

Despite requirements to comply with state law, it took a heated debate between the mayor and council before they eventually voted 3-2 to accept the latest draft of the ordinance and send it to the State Ethics Commission for review and approval.

Councilmembers John Hall Jr., Tom Moore and Mark Pierzchala voted in favor of accepting the draft, while Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and Councilmember Bridget Newton voted against.

Newton said she opposes the draft because she feels some of the financial disclosure is intrusive and could jeopardize the security of municipal officials.

“I’m all for ethics, but this goes way beyond that and will be a problem in the future,” Newton said. “I, for one, am not ready to approve it without more work.”

Marcuccio said she cannot completely support the draft at this time because it asks for what she feels is too much disclosure for municipal officials who are only working on a part-time basis. Rather, she prefers making more changes to the draft before sending it to the State Ethics Commission.

By sending the draft now, Marcuccio said, it implies the council is ready to adopt the ordinance if accepted by the commission.

Hall said he supports the draft because it’s the job of the mayor and council to follow the law, and it doesn’t have another option.

“When each of us were inaugurated, we took an oath to uphold state law,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s much we can do about this other than to obey the law.”

The mayor and council also voted unanimously to allow Rockville to enter into contract riders with the state’s Department of Information Technology of up to $500,000 per fiscal year through June 2028. Use of state contracts will likely expedite the acquisition of software, hardware, telecommunication equipment and services, and other items while minimizing risk and costs by utilizing pre-qualified contractors.

At the meeting there was also a public hearing about whether to continue with the re-construction of the Stonestreet Pedestrian Bridge or to re-allocate the funding for other purposes. The original bridge was demolished in March 2011, and plans were made to build a new one. However, questions about cost have put the project in jeopardy.

The total estimated cost for the bridge is $1.19 million, according to project manager Ilene Lish. The bridge itself has an estimated cost of $550,000, along with an additional $530,000 to ensure the bridge’s ramps meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and $110,000 in railroad permit fees.

With the opportunity to speak to the council about the bridge, Rockville residents took both sides. Opponents of the bridge argued the council should practice fiscal restraint and advised the money would be better spent elsewhere. Others argued the old bridge was sparsely used and a new one with ramps would still not be susceptible for use by disabled people because it will be too steep.

Supporters for construction of the bridge argued the council already made a promise it needs to make good on. Chas Hausheer, president of the East Rockville Civic Association, said he strongly encourages the council not to remove the bridge from the budget.

“People do want it replaced, and as soon as possible for the benefit of all of Rockville,” Hausheer said. “It ties into directly making the city a whole lot more pedestrian-friendly.”

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