Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Alderman Sam's Event Is Still On, And So Is The City's Arrogance

On Monday I posted about a campaign event being held by Alderman Shropshire that has taken heat for being a partisan campaign event held on city premises. The initial reaction that I heard was that the event's location was being moved. When this didn't happen, several Aldermen became upset, and at least 5 of the Aldermen want this event stopped.

The Mayor is out of town, so we can't get her feelings. We know Alderman Sam's view, so let's not count him. Of the remaining 7 Aldermen, 5 steadfastly oppose it. Were this a city council meeting, the meeting would fail. But since this is a unilaterally organized function not requiring votes, majority opposition doesn't matter, and neither does the fact that city code prevents using public office for personal gain.

In the wake of such stunning opposition, the event has been moved............nowhere! Alderman Sam sent out a "revised" email, where the specific solicitation for campaign money was removed.

Classie Hoyle is the acting Mayor, and therefore can assumedly issue an 'event veto'. Perhaps I should say the pretend Mayor, because I'm quite sure she is not going to act on this issue. The event will go on, despite it inappropriateness. The city's position on this is that since similar events have taken place, this one will be allowed.

The same themes continue to pervade city government: lack of accountability, mismanagement, and arrogance to think that they don't have to follow the law.

I suspect that a formal ethics complaint will not be the end of this issue.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

When you say similar events have been held at City Hall, you mean similar in that they were all "Democrat" political meetings?

Herb McMillan has a planning meeting coming up. I'm sure Alderwoman Hoyle wouldn't have a problem if we used City Hall.

Bob McWilliam

Scott Bowling said...

In response to Bob McWilliams comment -- I am sure the Honorable Alderwoman from Ward 3 and Acting Mayor would have no problem with that, as she was in supportive attendance at last night's event along with fellow Alderwoman and Mayoral candidate Sheila Finlayson (D-Ward4).

Anonymous said...

How is this a partisan event? How does Alderman Shropshire receive personal gain from holding this event?

Brian Gill said...

The event was sponsored by Sam's campaign committee. The email hyping the event had instructions for how to send campaign contributions to Sam. That is the definition of personal gain.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why people feel the use of public facilities was inappropriate, however, there does not appear to be anything in the City Code or any policy of the City that would prohibit the Mayor's office from lending or renting public space to any group, council chambers or otherwise.

While I often do not agree with Sam's points of view I respect his right to have his own view and the right to assemble and speak freely unconstrained by government. Every citizen has a right to petition their government for the use of City property, whether it be council chambers, Annapolis Street for this weekend's Octoberfest, or city dock for a boat show (for which the City now has two competing requests).

True, if another group was denied similar use and such denial was arbitrary or discriminatory (versus being denied because the room is being used for city business), then the denied group would have an equal protection suit against the City and could sue for access.

Conversely, if the folks who feel Sam's meeting was inappropriate, or even illegal, they could have marched up to Circuit Court and requested the Court issue an injunction stopping the meeting (the ethics board has no such authority). Of course, to convince a judge, there would have to be a legal basis for the claim that the meeting should not be held in City Hall. There is a process for accountability but people have to be willing to walk the walk.

But as we know, the critics did not go to court. Instead, they opted for the court of public opinion rather than a court of law. Perhaps because there is no legal prohibition, at least none that I am aware of (and please if anyone can point to anything, please do so).

I look forward to the upcoming debate on the issue at a future City Council meeting.

Brian Gill said...

The problem is that the code requires interpretation. The most relevant code that I found is in section 2.08.

2.08.010 reads "The proper operation of representative government requires that public officials and employees be independent, impartial, and responsive to the general public whom they represent; that public office not be used to advance personal gain".

and 2.08.010.A reads "Elected and appointed officials and employees shall not engage in any business or transaction or have a financial interest, direct or indirect, which is incompatible with the proper discharge of official duties or would tend to impair independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties"

As you can see, the code allows for wide interpretation and I certainly understand those tho don't think this event warrants a violation.

Going to court would require much more time and expense than an ethics complaing, which is why I suspect that the complaintant chose that particular method.

This issues hits on some general city themes:

1. ambiguous codes
2. no deliniated penalties for viloations of codes (remember Sam's financial reports)
3. no criteria for determining which events are appropriate
4. arrogance, that in the face of opposition from the majority of the aldermen, and therefore the majority of citizens, the event was still allowed to take place

Since governmental authority is derived from the people, the court of public opinion is often the birthplace for ideas the eventually fall under the purview of a court of law.

Anonymous said...

Brian, responding to the following,

1. ambiguous codes
2. no deliniated penalties for viloations of codes (remember Sam's financial reports)
3. no criteria for determining which events are appropriate
4. arrogance, that in the face of opposition from the majority of the aldermen, and therefore the majority of citizens, the event was still allowed to take place


As to your fourth point, as a conservative who has a healthy distrust of government I would be cautious (and nervous) about establishing “criteria” to be used by City Hall to determine “which events are appropriate” and which are not. Surely you are not suggesting that speech content or speaker background, party affiliation or ideology be the criteria (which seem to be some of the criticisms of this event). Clearly there would be constitutional issues. I cannot wait to see what people suggest as the “criteria”, it should be interesting.

As to your fifth point, as a member of a minority party, I am not sure I would want a “majority of the alderman”, currently democrat-controlled, “allowing” some events to take place and some to not; nor would I want a vote-approval of any public meeting I want to hold; nor do I think events should be cancelled “in the face of opposition”. Doesn’t sound like any free society that I want to live in.

As to your second point, there are penalties in the code (and in State law). I am not sure whether the point is that there are no penalties or that some simply disagree with the decision of the decision making body (in this case the Election Board).

As to your first point, “ambiguous codes” is nothing new, whether local, state, or Federal. Ambiguity simply means that a provision is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, but the interpretation suggested still has to be reasonable in the first instance. I personally cannot imagine any “impartial” standard that would prohibit a politician from holding a community meeting about community activism, even one politically slanted. It is also not clear to me how contributions to a campaign committee can be considered “personal gain” absent a diversion of funds, otherwise all candidates might be in trouble. Not sure the suggested interpretation is reasonable, but that is what the ethics board will decide.

Lastly, I understand that perhaps the critics did not want to go to court. But for $550 they could have filed an administrative appeal with the City’s Board of Appeals, which is the body to which any aggrieved citizen can file an appeal of any public official’s decision (here, the Office of Mayor’s decision to lend or rent the meeting space). The Code provides that once an appeal is filed, all action is stayed … and the City would have had to withdraw the permission to use the space until the appeal heard.

Some are saying that the critics are only interested in headlines, controversy, Fox45 and their own political ambitions. I’m not sure but that is what I’ve heard. What I do know is that the critics did not avail themselves of the procedures provided by our Code that are available to citizens to challenge the decisions of their government. An ethics complain is only a complaint against Sam and not against the City itself.

Brian Gill said...

You are focusing on the content of the meeting. This is not the point--nobody is talking about restricting free speech.

The issue in question is the 'using public office for personal gain' bit. Perhaps the "criteria" that you are freaking out about could include not soliciting campaign contributions. Notice how that criterion is not partisan, nor idological, nor Constitutionally questionable--not even "interesting". It's fair.

Since the code requires interpretation, the City Attorney and whatever other boards you mentioned have jurisdiction. But it shouldn't get to that point.

If you think that Sam is noble for flying in the face of opposition, that's great. But I think he's flying against laws and ethics with 5 of his colleagues telling him that he's being an idiot.

Juris Prudence said...

Let the courts decide, it is the best way.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

Check out the City’s website, and its “Community Organizations” page http://www.ci.annapolis.md.us/info.asp?page=1416
And then check out the link to “Political Groups” http://www.ci.annapolis.md.us/comorg.asp?page=1616
And then some of the links embedded that then solicit “donations”
http://www.mdgop.com/ and “contributions” http://www.mddems.org/

If a City’s website is its cyber town green, seems this might have to be addressed.

Victor Oyvey said...

My friend, why not new posts? Do an update on the fire, or the market house, or a controversy with the boat show.

Brian Gill said...

Federal Blog Bailout Rules require that blogs go for at least 10 days without a new post before they are eligible for taxpayer money. My legal team advises me that even this comment may jeopardize the $300 billion loan I have asked for from the Fed. But consequences be damned, I will endeavour to develop some quick posts for you.

I actually went to the Market House last week and there are only 2 shops left: the Italian pastry shop and the Crab Cake place I think. I then went to the farmers market for what was an underwhelminng selection of relatively expensive things. Pretty sad.

victor oyvey said...

It seems despite any wrong-doing on your part you will still be eligible for a bailout. Also the more people you harm by being negligent, the more money you will be eligible for.

No worries.