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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Ethics looks at candidate finances

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

The Berlin Ethics Commission reviewed the first batch of financial disclosures from candidates and incumbents running for Berlin Mayor and Town Council and sent back most of them.

It’s not a shocking move, said Town Administrator Mary Bohlen.

“It’s not the easiest form,” she said. “It’s unsurprising that there were additional questions for us (to have them answer). It’s a matter of clarification. We need more thoro

Berlin Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen

ugh answers.”

In some cases, the issue was as simple as someone missing a question.

The statements are a prerequisite for individuals running for mayor and town council, Bohlen said. Members of the various town commissions do not have to fill them out.

The point of the forms is to identify possible conflicts of interest, which itself is the central, most fundamental directive of the Ethics Commission in all its duties.

“Our ordinance is modeled on the state law,” town attorney Dave Gaskill said at the meeting. “Mainly what we’re concerned with, so far as ethics go is financial transparency — elected officials, employees and board of commission members here in town. That’s why a certain number of those members are required to file financial (disclosure forms).”

“Essentially, the Ethics Commission, both in our state and in our town, boils down to this: looking for conflicts of interest. Essentially, an elected official or board member cannot participate in a discussion or decision for anything that would financially enhance their pocketbook. They can’t participate in anything that a family member is involved in. That also goes to businesses. A council member would have to recuse themselves if their decision involved either a business or a family member who would benefit from that decision financially.”

Further, elected officials cannot solicit or accept gifts.

The commission also reviews complaints. The process starts with signed complaints submitted in writing. The complainant cannot be anonymous and they must file their complaint with the town administration. The complaint then makes its way to the commission.

From there, an initial determination is made on whether the commission has jurisdiction over the complaint. If it does, then a hearing is scheduled, which the complainant must attend. The complainant testifies — under oath — and has the option to bring additional witnesses.

Defendants have all recourse available to them under legal due process.

Like any court, the complainant must establish a preponderance of evidence for their complaint to succeed.

The commission did not set a date for its next meeting, but Bohlen said she imagines it will be closer to the Sept. 2 filing deadline.

This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on June 9, 2022.