While our fight to prevent lobbyists from serving on the Charter Review Commission fell short last week, your voices in opposition were heard loudly and clearly. I want to thank those of you that took the time to write, call, email, and post on Facebook your messages against the passage of the resolution establishing the commission.
I used the information my office received to tell the members of the Council, the press, and the assembled public that the membership of the commission was unacceptable. I want to thank Councilman Todd Crandall in agreeing with our position by voting against the resolution with me. Attached is the statement that I made during the legislative session.
Currently the County Laws requiring lobbyist registration are far too open to interpretation and it is far more difficult than it should be for County residents to gain access to the lobbying lists. One set of lists is held by the County Law office, and the other is held by the County Council Secretary. It must be noted, though, that during the year that zoning decisions are made, members of the County Council may not accept any campaign contributions.
Legislation has been introduced in the Maryland State Senate that attempts to limit the influence of special interests in dealings with the County Government and County Council. On Thursday, I went to Annapolis to take part in a hearing, and offer strong support of this concept. There is no doubt that Lobbyist Reform is desperately needed in Baltimore County.
I want to thank all of you again for joining together to make your voices heard on this important matter.
Statement By Wade Kach Prepared for Tonight’s Council Meeting Concerning the Charter Review Commission
(Read for the Record)
By now, thousands of Baltimore County Residents have offered their input regarding the membership of the Baltimore County Charter Review Commission. The overwhelming majority agree with me that there should not be land use lobbyists on this important panel.
In my own poll, over 500 constituents responded favorably to this position, while only eleven disagreed. The Green Towson Alliance has also provided me with a petition of 127 signatures in agreement, which they have sent to the rest of the Council. In addition, between social media messages, comments to the web posting, and comments made to articles posted by the Towson Flyer and the Baltimore Sun, more than 100 more people took time out of their lives to make their voices heard in opposition to the membership of this Commission. And let us not forget all those that contacted each of you.
It is most disappointing then, that despite the widespread outcry, my colleagues have not been moved by the voices of County voters.
The position that I, and the people of Baltimore County hold, is the simple, common sense proposition that lobbyists should not be placed on this important reform commission – not when they are on retainer and routinely have issues before the county. Not now. Not ever.
It has been reported that only one member of the commission is a registered lobbyist in the current year, and I can see why. The fact is, the current lobbying rules in the county code are so permissive that it is very easy to lobby the council without having to report it. It is a subject that is worth returning to for purposes of future legislation.
If you spoke to any County resident on the street, they would think that the current make-up of the commission is absurd. Situations like this is what gives government such a bad reputation, and deservedly so.
Fundamental to the opposition of County residents is the problem of accountability. How can we guarantee that all members of the commission will be working with the public interest in mind? I recognize the objection from my colleagues that lobbyists are also citizens, community activists, and lobby on many other important issues and noble causes. Some have long records of public service. Because of this, my colleagues make the point that we can trust the lobbyists on the Commission to do the right thing.
Respectfully, the public disagrees. The fact of the matter is that the lobbyists on the commission are ethically and financially bound, as they should be, to act in the interest of their clients. They take an oath promising to do so and are ethically bound by the ethical standards of their profession as members of the bar. With this being the case, what is to happen should their client’s interest conflict with the interests of the public? How can we count on lobbyists to act on behalf of the public interest when they are being paid to advocate on retainer for the interests of their clients?
For example, the Charter Commission will be studying the reform of the Baltimore County Board of Appeals. The Board of Appeals sees some of the most contentious land use and zoning issues in the county. Will the members of the Charter Review Commission who regularly appear before the board of appeals be able to act with impartiality when it comes time to study this portion of the Charter?
Concerning the County Charter’s section on Competitive bidding, many of the law firms whose attorneys are on this commission have contractors as clients. Are we to trust members of the commission who have a financial interest in the success of the competitive bidding process to properly oversee the potential revision of this section of the Charter?
I have also heard that this commission is only advisory, and that the Council and later the public will have the ability to accept or reject the commission’s recommendation. While this is undeniable, I doubt that the vast majority of the people who voted for this Commission in the November election had lobbyists in mind when they cast a vote in favor of the Charter Review Process.
I know that I did not when I cosponsored this effort.
While the commission is advisory only, its recommendations will not be worth much if they are written by those who are regularly trying to influence the Council on behalf of special interests. Who will speak for the needs, wants, and interests of the citizenry? And what value will be the Charter Review process be if it is tainted from the start?
I cannot and will not support the resolution establishing this commission as currently comprised. For the last time, I urge my colleagues to reject this resolution until the membership of the Charter Review Commission is reflective of what the people of Baltimore County vehemently demand and deserve.