Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hagen Accused of Ethics Law Violation

George Wenschhof

In a development that could hardly be called a surprise, an ethics complaint has been filed against former Frederick County Commissioner Kai Hagen.

Walter Mills of Frederick in a letter to the Frederick County Government Ethics Commission alleges Hagen has violated Section 1-7.1-4 (G) of the Frederick County, Maryland ethics ordinance which prohibits a former county employee or official from dealing with the county as a compensated representative of another during the first year after leaving office.

Mr. Mills has a long history of opposing local government intervention when it comes to land management and zoning issues, previously heading up an organization entitled Defenders of Citizens Rights.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Mills said Defenders of Citizens Rights operated from 2001 through 2006 and opposed efforts by Frederick County Commissioners, led by Republican John "Lenny" Thompson, to down zone properties adjacent to Route 15 North.

In colorful language, Mr. Mills expressed his disdain for former Commissioners Thompson, Jan Gardner, and Kai Hagen along with current Commissioner David Gray.

Mills is also angry at the down zoning which was done by the last board of county commissioners (BoCC), on which Kai Hagen served as a member. The current BoCC, led by President Blaine Young is presently reviewing the down zoning which took place, allowing landowners to petition to restore property rights.

It is testimony by Kai Hagen, Executive Director of Envision Frederick County, at BoCC meetings and Planning and Zoning Board meetings on this and other issues, which has Mills believing Hagen has violated the Frederick County Ethics Law. Envision Frederick County is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization.

This charge is hardly a surprise as current BoCC president Blaine Young publicly stated weeks ago; he believed Hagen was in violation of the Ethics Law after Hagen questioned Young serving as honorary chair with a 501 (c) (4) non-profit entitled We The People of Maryland. Walter Mills was the initial resident agent and is one of four directors of We The People of Maryland.

In several conversations I had with Young, he asserted he had reviewed with the county attorney his involvement with We The People of Maryland and he was not breaking any law.

After following the exchange unfold between Hagen and Young, I asked Frederick County Attorney Linda Thall, what part of the Ethics Law pertained to this issue and she emailed me in part, the following:

The Ethics Ordinance’s restriction on employment is found in Section 1-7.1-4(G). This restricts the ability of County officials and employees from acting as compensated representatives of another in dealing with the County on specific matters in which they participated substantially as a County official or employee. The restriction applies for one year following the termination of their employment.

The County’s Lobbying Ordinance is contained in Chapter 1-7.2 of the County Code. (Both the Ethics and Lobbying Ordinances can be found on the County’s website by clicking on the links to government, then boards and commissions and then ethics commission. Certain types of non-profit entities are addressed in Section 1-7.2-2(B). Prohibited conduct is described in Section 1-7.2-9. The prohibited conduct restrictions apply to both for-profit entities and non-profit entities.

She also included a link to the county ethics ordinance.

A violation is subject to punishment of a fine up to $1,000.00 and/or imprisonment of up to six months.

I also met with the Aaron Valentino, chair of the board of directors of Envision Frederick County to discuss several issues, including the ethics accusation by Board President Blaine Young in regard to Kai Hagen.

Valentino, a well intentioned and thoughtful man, did not seem to believe there were any problems with Hagen's actions to date, but indicated he would certainly look into it.

In subsequent email exchanges, I also brought up the county ethics ordinance and asked how much compensation Hagen had received from Envision Frederick County. A question Valentino deferred to the full Board of Directors for an answer. I have yet to receive an answer from him.

Valentino brought up the notion of Hagen registering as a Lobbyist and I mentioned I wondered if that would violate the 501 (c) (3) non-profit status filed by Envision Frederick County.

Later, I contacted local attorney David Severn of the law firm Severn, O'Conner and Kresslein, P.A. and he sent me the following from the IRS Code in regard to lobbying efforts conducted by 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporations:

In a 501 ( c ) (3) charitable purpose no substantial part of the activities of the organization can be promoting propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation or participating in a political campaign. A 501 ( c ) (3) should not take part in a partisan political campaign for or against any candidate running for public office. Violation risks loss of tax-exempt status.

A “substantial part” of the organization’s activities cannot be to influence legislation including contacting or urging the public or members of a legislative body to support or oppose legislation , directly advocating for the adoption or rejection of legislation or having the enactment of certain legislation as a goal.

A 501 ( c ) (3) can undertake some lobbying on legislation so long as it does not exceed 5% of all its expenditures.

Whether or not, Mr. Hagen as Executive Director of Envision Frederick County, has violated either the Frederick County Maryland Ethics Ordinance or the IRS code, remains to be seen.

A ruling on either will not take place unless a complaint is filed. With the complaint being filed by Walter Mills, the Frederick County Ethics Commission will decide if the ethics complaint has merit and if so, render a decision after deliberation.

There certainly does not appear to be any intent by former commissioner Kai Hagen or the Board of Directors of Envision Frederick County to violate a law. Instead, both Hagen and Valentino exhibit a genuine interest in the future of Frederick County and have strong positions on issues of importance to them.

Unfortunately, this latest dust up on the legality of actions by both Hagen and Young is a continuation of the long standing "growth" versus "no-growth" debate expressed by two very vocal, passionate and well organized factions which exist in Frederick County.

I trust Envision Frederick County will review their current corporate status and allowable activities permitted under county and federal law and if necessary, make the changes needed for compliance.

Of more importance, is the need to elect reasonable, fair, and effective county elected officials in the future.

Frederick County residents deserve better than this long standing Hatfield-McCoy like feud over growth policy.

More balance is needed from county elected leaders as the back and forth pendulum swing over the last twenty plus years has been harmful to the community.

Decisions which are long lasting are desperately needed for present and future residents. The business sector and future job creation is also dependent on more stability.

Bringing people together and building consensus on an issue as important as growth is not an easy task, but one that must be undertaken.

Stay Tuned...


To receive "Daily Updates" from Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

1 comment:

Friends of Frederick County said...

George, I have not heard one person with whom I work, support or represent say ANYTHING about no growth. There are over 36,000 homes approved for Frederick County (and we meet the Maryland state growth projections) in the 20-year plan written and voted on by the past commission. So why do you perpetuate this falsity of "no growth"? I extract your sentence from the article:

"Unfortunately, this latest dust up on the legality of actions by both Hagen and Young is a continuation of the long standing "growth" versus "no-growth" debate expressed by two very vocal, passionate and well organized factions which exist in Frederick County."

Not quite sure why this concept is so difficult to understand...but it sure seems to be. If you need to make it black and white, try this:

The debate is between people who want to make a short term quick profit versus taxpayers who understand that services cost money, we pay for them, and want to ensure we CAN AFFORD them before we invite more people into the county who will also depend upon those services.

Speak the truth.

-Janice Wiles, Friends of Frederick County