By Len Lazarick
The Howard County Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint against County Executive Ken Ulman and County Council Chairman Calvin Ball filed by a former Ehrlich administration official who claimed they got her fired as the lobbyist for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.
Diane Wilson, a Republican who served as deputy secretary of the Department of General Services, had said in her complaint that Ulman and Ball both contacted Chamber officials to say that Wilson could not be an effective advocate because of her political activities — particularly her race for County Council in 2002 against Guy Guzzone, now a member of the House of Delegates.
The commission said that “the conduct complained of is not directly related to public business within the meaning of the Publics Ethics Law. Morever, the facts alleged, even if assumed to be true, do not state a violation of the Public Ethics Law.”
The commission’s decision was issued Friday, after a closed-door meeting last Tuesday. The commission took up the complaint even though it was not made under oath and signed, as the law requires.
Wilson claimed Ulman and Ball had used their “prestige of office” to interfere with her employment as government affairs director. She started work Jan. 10 and was asked to resign Jan. 14, which she did on Jan. 17.
In its decision, the commission said that the prohibition against using “prestige of office” applied only if the official obtained some kind of “economic gain” for himself or someone else.
“The complaint is devoid of even a scintilla of an allegation or a fair inference that the officials benefited personally; nor did any other person benefit. Comments or opinions expressed by a public official, on the facts presented here, do not constitute a use of prestige of office for that official’s private gain or that of another,” the decision said.
Chamber President Pam Klahr has declined to comment on the complaint because it is “a personnel matter.”
The commission said the chamber presumably decided that Wilson could not be effective in her new post working with public officials. That was a “a business and personnel decision in its capacity as private employer, which it was entitled to do for whatever reasons it chose,” and it was not a governmental action.
Asked for a comment, Council Chairman Ball said, “I believe the written decision is pretty self-explanatory.” Ulman spokesman Kevin Enright said the executive would have no comment.
Diane Wilson said, “Obviously I’m disappointed. I think what they did is wrong.”