By Dan Menefee
Sen. Ulysses Currie sat in silence Friday as the Senate chair of the Joint Ethics Committee, his seatmate Norman Stone, read the findings of an ethics investigation that called for a resolution to censure Currie and remove him from leadership positions on committees and subcommittees.
“We must have the confidence and trust of the citizens of Maryland to be effective legislators,” Stone said standing at the podium before the full Senate.
Stone, D-Baltimore County, read off a list of six ethics violations regarding Currie’s failure to report a paid consulting relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse between 2003 and 2008 — while he was steering legislation favorable to the grocery chain.
Currie, D-Prince George’s, was acquitted last year of federal bribery charges. Investigators said he used his legislative influence to transfer a liquor license for Shoppers Food Warehouse from Takoma Park to College Park — while receiving money from the grocery chain as a consultant.
Currie failed to disclose $250,000 he received between 2003 and 2008 from the chain.
As part of the resolution, Currie was asked to make an apology to the body to which he was first elected in 1994.
“Mr. President and my fellow Senators. I accept the recommendations of the ethics committee,”
Facing his colleagues from his desk, Currie said, “I sincerely apologize to you for having to concern yourself with the findings and the conclusions of the committee report. I know this was a difficult decision to sit in judgement of a colleague. The procedures were tough but fair and I find no fault in their actions.”
“I will not stand here and make excuses,” Currie said, choking up with emotion at points in his short speech. “I’m a person with flaws, and I do have weaknesses. And I never intended to do anything to bring dishonor to you, my wife, or me. I’m deeply sorry that I did so and promise I will never do so again.”
Moments later all 47 senators, including Currie himself, voted for the “resolution of censure expressing the Senate’s disapproval of Senator Currie’s actions.”
Miller contradicts himself on committee assignments
In the days leading up to the final report, Senate President Mike Miller said he would “accept the recommendations” of the Joint Committee, which in part called for Currie’s removal from most committees, including conference committees.
Conference committees reconcile differences in legislation between the House and Senate, and members appointed to one have a key role in the final shape of legislation.
Miller’s comment to reporters after the censure vote contradicted earlier statements. He said Currie could be appointed to a conference committee if his expertise was needed.
Absolutely,” Miller said. Anyone who can “impart wisdom and knowledge on a conference committee would be named…to help the Senate.”
Before the session, Miller told MarylandReporter.com that Currie could still be effective in the Senate.
“Absolutely, he’s an integral part of his community and a practitioner of his faith,” Miller said. “He’s served his county as a school teacher and principal, and he served his country as a member of the armed forces, and he’ll continue to be a friend of an overwhelming majority of the Senate.”
In the resolution of censure, the Senate adopted the “findings and conclusions” of the report, but it did not officially adopt the “recommendations,” which Miller said he had largely implemented.
One of the recommendations that affects all members of the General Assembly is that each member meet annually with the Ethics Advisor “at which the members shall be required to bring for reveiw … the member’s most recent state and federal tax returns.”
If that requirement had existed in the past, Currie presumably would have been told that he needed to disclose the payments affecting Shopper’s Food Warehouse
World and recuse himself from sponsoring or voting on legislation affecting the chain.