Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner issued her first executive order today. Marking the first executive order in Frederick County government, Mrs. Gardner held a press conference to explain her action and the impact of the executive order.
County Council President Bud Otis attended and spoke in support of the executive order. “Bidding on contracts for tax payer dollars to pay for their contracts and competing against the citizens who vote for them does not pass the smell test.” Mr. Otis recounted conversations with county staff who feel under pressure when dealing with elected officials.
The Executive Order “insures open and honest government” by limiting “the awards of county contracts to council members, the county executive, or to business entities to which they or qualified family members have a direct financial interest.” In short, the County Executive declared that she will not sign any contract on behalf of the county with council members, herself, or to a business owned by those individuals or their families.
Mrs. Gardner explained that she anticipates the County Council to pass legislation that will put these laws into place. As it will take two or three months for such laws to come to fruition, the executive order will fill the gap. Upon implementation of legislation, the executive order will be usurped by that law.
“Anyone in elected office should ensure that we have a free market system and fairness for all participants,” according to the County Executive. These processes makes sure that the public procurement process has integrity and is fair and open to all. She wants to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
This action comes on the heels of an opinion from the Frederick County Ethics Commission. That opinion stated that County Council Member Kirby Delauter’s company may now bid on county contracts. County Executive Jan Gardner and County Council President Bud Otis wrote a letter jointly arguing against the validity of the opinion. In response, three members of the Ethics Commission resigned yesterday.
County Executive Gardner pointed out that the Executive Order does not nullify the Ethics Commission’s advisory opinion. Per that opinion, Mr. Delauter’s company may bid on projects, but the County Executive will not sign any contract that might be awarded to his company.
After promising an open and honest government, Mrs. Gardner asked, “If a contractor would lose a contract to a county council member or the county executive, for that matter, how would they ever be reasonably assured that there was no inside information, no pressure put on county staff, or no advantage given to the elected official involved?” She believes contractors who may lose a contract to an elected official would be discouraged against bidding in the future.
In response to comparisons with the two teachers on the County Council voting on funds for education, Mrs. Gardner explained the differences as apples and oranges. While funds for education are controlled by the Board of Education and are dispersed to thousands of people, a county contract awarded to a contract goes to that one individual or the few individuals who own the company.