MetCom Changes on the Table Before Legislators

By Guy Leonard, The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. — Two bills from the county delegation to Annapolis, one submitted and another being drafted, seek to place all of the employees of the Metropolitan Commission under the county ethics ordinance, a move the board of that agency strenuously objected to, and also restricts the current director of the agency Jacquelyn Meiser from holding both the directorship and the general counsel roles.

By being placed under the county’s ethics law, which is widely believed to be stricter than the state’s rules that MetCom has been operating for decades, a county employee is not allowed to represent a citizen before any county boards or commissions.

Meiser, an attorney, recently represented a client before the county’s Board of Appeals involving a land use dispute at a marina in Ridge.

Del. John F. Wood said that the ethics bill would still allow Meiser to keep her private law practice, but her representing residents before county boards and commissions would have to come to an end.

He also said that the bill that divides the general counsel role from the directorship came out of a task force’s recommendation to do so, which also had the full support of county commissioners.

When Meiser was hired by the MetCom board of directors in 2009 some community activists also said publicly that her holding dual posts plus an outside law practice smacked of a conflict of interest.

Meiser has said that she has taken steps to ensure that her outside law practice does not run afoul of any interests with her directorship.

“Everybody thought that that was kind of a conflict of interest,” Wood said of Meiser’s multiple posts at MetCom. “The task force, the delegation and the county commissioners all felt it was the right way to go.”

MetCom was recently criticized by some county commissioners for asking for the county’s backing of MetCom borrowing practices but still staunchly opposing being placed under the county ethics ordinance.

MetCom officials argued that because it was founded under state mandates that it should stay with the state’s ethics rule; local officials disagreed, stating that since MetCom worked exclusively in St. Mary’s County, it should abide by local ethics codes.

House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) said he did not expect any problems in getting the laws passed this legislative session.

“There’s broad consensus on what should go forward,” O’Donnell said. “It just makes good sense… it’s time to make these necessary changes.”

Meiser declined extensive comment for this article, saying that she would make decisions based only on the final outcome of the bills in the legislative session.

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