Cecil County Councilor Jackie Gregory Violated Ethics Code, Commission Finds; Stops Teaching in Schools Under Panel Order

May 29, 2020

Cecil County Council member Jackie Gregory (R-5) violated county ethics rules with “an appearance of a conflict of interest” by holding a job as a substitute teacher for county schools at the same time as she served on the County Council and voted on school budgets and appropriations, according to a report by the county Ethics Commission.

Gregory, who is seeking re-election to her County Council seat in District 5 in the 6/2/2020 Republican primary election, has repeatedly contended in campaign statements and flyers that the ethics probe of her conduct was politically motivated and an attempt by County Executive Alan McCarthy to silence her. In fact, last November it was Gregory herself who first disclosed her work as a substitute teacher and expressed her defiance of county ethics and Charter rules. It was not until over a month later – on 12/9/2019–that a private citizen filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission, the report said.

The Commission’s report also stated that “It is worth noting that no evidence was presented to the commission that the complaint was filed with any political or personal malice.”

Gregory herself disclosed her work as a substitute teacher for CCPS, while also serving as a County Council member and voting on school budget matters, at a Council worksesssion on 11/5/2019. She claimed that there was nothing wrong with her actions and disputed the legitimacy of county Ethics Code and county Charter prohibitions on such dual service. [SEE CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2019/11/councilor-gregory-defends-taking-cecil-co-schools-while-voting-on-budget-cites-ag-opinion-in-carroll-county-cecil-charter-ethics-rules-pose-conflicts/

In fact, the Ethics Commission’s new report said of Gregory that “at no time has she requested an advisory opinion from the Commission on this matter.” So her assertion at the Council worksession that the rules did not apply to her was not based on any consultation with the panel in charge of enforcing or interpreting the ethics regulations.

The commission also reported that Gregory testified that she had been told by one current and one former Council member (who are not lawyers) that her work for CCPS appeared to be in violation of the county ethics and Charter regulations, but she “maintained her employment with CCPS nonetheless.”

On 2/5/2020, the ethics panel notified Gregory that it had concluded that she was in apparent violation of ethics rules and advised her that she could “correct the alleged violation by resigning her position with CCPS or her membership on the County Council.” She was also told she could request a hearing before the commission to contest the case, which Gregory then requested.

But before that hearing could be held, Gregory sought a county Circuit Court restraining order on 4/29/2020 to prevent the ethics panel from proceeding, but her request was denied the same day, according to Cecil County court records.

The ethics panel’s report notes that Gregory resigned from CCPS as a substitute teacher on the same day, 4/29/2020. In so doing, she was apparently accepting the panel’s directive, in its February 5 letter to her.

Nevertheless, Gregory went ahead with demanding a formal hearing before the ethics panel, after a private lawyer she hired at that stage issued subpoenas to members of the County Council and County Executive McCarthy to demand that they appear at the hearing to testify. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/02/councilor-jackie-gregory-facing-ethics-order-launches-schorched-earth-attack-on-fellow-lawmakers-council-attorney-paid-by-taxpayers-aids-her-cause/

Puzzled Council members, who said they had no relevant information to provide, were seen hanging around in hallways near the hearing room but were not called into the room to testify.

Finally, the commission rendered its official decision on 5/18/2020 and issued formal written findings, dated 5/20/2020, that ruled Gregory had violated the county’s Ethics Code, with an “appearance of a conflict of interest” by voting on the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) budget and other school matters on the Council while also being employed as a part-time substitute teacher for CCPS.

The report said it lacked “evidence of” “a conflict in fact.” Several months after taking her Council seat, in 2017 Gregory proposed over $1 million in cuts in the schools budget for Fiscal 2018, bringing the budget down to the bare minimum “maintenance of effort” level required by state law– which could have forced CCPS to rely more on cheaper substitute teachers than salaried staff. But her proposal went nowhere and was rejected by follow councilors. In subsequent budget years, when documents show she was receiving a salary from CCPS, she did not propose budget cuts to the schools.

The 10-page order was signed by the panel’s chairman, Robert Boonstoppel, and members Wyatt Wallace and Bradley Moore. Another member, William Defreitas, did not participate in the matter while another seat on the panel was vacant and the County Council had declined to vote on filling that vacancy while the Gregory case was pending before the Commission. Deborah Sniadowski was the lawyer representing the commission.

In addition to the ethics code violations, the original complaint against Gregory cited provisions of the county Charter that specifically prohibit Council members from being “employed in an appointed office or any nonelected position in any public agency, department, board, commission, or other public body that receives funds through the budget or is involved in the public business of the County” or receiving “compensation for serving in an appointed office or any nonelected position in any public agency, department, board, commission, or other public body that receives funds through the budget or is involved in the public business of the County.”

But the ethics panel said questions involving possible violations of the Charter were beyond its jurisdiction so it could not render an opinion on possible Charter questions.

Faced with the impending release of ethics findings against her, Gregory launched public political campaign statements, on social media and in printed campaign materials, claiming that County Executive Alan McCarthy was responsible for the ethics issues she faced and was conducting a vendetta against her. She accused him of “tyrannical ways” in a campaign flyer, sent after the ethics panel reached its decision but before it was available to the public, and asserted that McCarthy was “trying to exclude me from future budget hearings by claiming that because I was a part-time substitute teacher I cannot participate or vote in the budget hearings.”

Despite her campaign assertions, in fact Gregory participated in the County Council’s 4/14/2020 budget worksession with Dr. Jeff Lawson, superintendent of county schools and other CCPS officials. At that time, she was still officially on the CCPS roster of substitute teachers. No one sought to block her from attending the session. And in the recently concluded Council deliberations on the Fiscal 2021 budget, Gregory did not offer proposed spending cuts to the schools operating budget and no one tried to prevent her participation in the Council meetings on the budget.

Instead, Gregory proposed several spending cut amendments to other programs that were rejected by fellow Council members. She proposed sharp reductions in overtime pay for paramedics, Department of Emergency Services workers and corrections officers at the Detention Center, but as the proposals were about to go down to a 4-1 defeat at a worksession, she withdrew the proposals.

At the time of the budget deliberations and the final votes on 5/19/2020, the ethics panel’s findings on Gregory’s case had not yet been released.

LEGAL FOOTNOTE: The Cecil County Ethics code states “Except as permitted by regulation of the Commission when the interest is disclosed or when the employment does not create a conflict of interest or appearance of conflict, an official or employee may not: Be employed by or have a financial interest in any entity, Subject to the authority of the official or employee or the County agency, board, commission with which the official or employee is affiliated; or Hold any other employment relationship that would impair the impartiality or independence of judgment of the official or employee”.

READ more on Gregory’s conflict of interest questions, government payments for legal bills in the matter and payments for attendance at social events here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/01/cecil-county-council-ignores-legal-rules-taxpayers-pay-for-jackie-gregorys-dinner-events-legal-questions-on-dual-jobs/

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One Response to Cecil County Councilor Jackie Gregory Violated Ethics Code, Commission Finds; Stops Teaching in Schools Under Panel Order

  1. ConcernedCitizen on May 30, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for your outstanding investigative reporting! Without you, Cecil County would have no way of knowing what kind of swamp creatures are running for office or hold office. I admit I fell for this one – not going to make that mistake again.

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