Scott, New Cecil County Attorney, Fumbles First Meeting of Hornberger’s New Ethics Panel; Clueless on Open Meetings Law, State Ethics Commission Role

April 21, 2021
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NEWS ANALYSIS

It was the first time that Lawrence Scott, an Annapolis political consultant and the new Cecil County Attorney, put in an official appearance at a public county meeting when he presided over the first session of the all-new membership of the county’s Ethics Commission on Tuesday 4/20/2021. It did not go well.

First, the audio portion of the livestreamed meeting was muted for about the first fifteen minutes of the session, before an audience member was able to raise a ‘hand’ in the online format to advise that no one could hear the proceedings. When the audio was then enabled, Scott related what he said was the state of play thus far: approval of the meeting agenda, discussion of a list of members of county boards and commissions who had failed to submit a required ethics disclosure form, and a decision to send a letter to apparent violators giving them 30 days to submit the required forms.

No advance agenda had been posted on the Ethics Commission website, as required by law. Scott’s recitation did not elaborate on what the rest of the actual agenda was.

Scott then led a discussion about why members of the Bainbridge Development Corporation were “exempt” from filing a financial disclosure form with the county Ethics Commission, saying, “I don’t know why.” Then he offered the opinion that “you are allowed to exempt yourself” if “you believe it is an invasion of privacy.”

Wrong.

The Bainbridge Development Corporation (BDC) is a state agency and members of its board file a state financial disclosure and ethics form with the Maryland Ethics Commission. Most members of the Bainbridge panel come from the private sector, but if a local public official—such as the county economic development director—sits on the board, he or she files with the state but also must cross-file with the county commission as part of local employment duties.

BDC was created many years ago to try to work out re-development options for the sprawling Port Deposit area site that was the home of the Bainbridge Naval Training Center. The site was transferred from the Navy to the state of Maryland but redevelopment has been stymied for decades by contamination of much of the site and fights over who would pay to remediate the environmental problems. Now part of the site is on the verge of being redeveloped with a major warehousing facility, since lingering environmental issues forced deletion of previously proposed housing options for the site.

Scott told the county ethics panel he would investigate the issue of BDC members’ exemption from local filing requirements and report back to them. The answer to that question is obvious and readily available. But panel members will have a long wait if he also looks for non-existent state and local ethics laws for legal support for his “opinion” that people can opt out of financial disclosures if they think the requirement is an “invasion of privacy.”

In fact, the ethics financial disclosure forms are quite broad and do not require specific bank account or investment account balances.

Scott also showed he is unfamiliar with the most basic requirements of the state Open Meetings law. After the local commission discussed its schedule of meetings for the rest of the year, Scott announced that the panel would move to a “closed session” without disclosing the purpose of the closed session and public citation of the specific reasons, as required by state law, under a limited list of permitted reasons for closing a public meeting.

Ironically, it was Andrew Goins, a controversial opponent of LGBTQ rights and an assistant pastor at Pleasant View Baptist Church– who was installed on the ethics panel by new County Executive Danielle Hornberger after she unilaterally fired all previous members of the commission– who seemed to question going into closed session unilaterally.

“Don’t you have to say what it’s about,” Goins asked.

”No,” Scott replied before moving to a closed session.

Wrong again.

The all-new membership of the county Ethics Commission did not select a chairman—at least in the publicly audible portion of the session—but Goins sat at the head of the table. The commission is supposed to have five members but the County Council only approved four of Hornberger’s nominees to take over the panel. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/02/cecil-county-council-oks-4-hornberger-ethics-panel-picks-rejects-democrat-come-lately-oks-anti-lgbtq-rights-pastor-goins-council-social-media-war-erupts-as-gregory-attacks-coutz/ ]

Meanwhile, Lawrence Scott’s maiden voyage in a public meeting role was perhaps a predictable sad outcome for a new county attorney who was selected by Hornberger despite the fact that he had never set foot in a state courtroom or even entered a written “appearance” on behalf of a client in a civil or criminal case, according to the Maryland courts database.

He has been an Annapolis political consultant and local lobbyist in Anne Arundel county—with close political ties to Dirk Haire, the state Republican Party chairman who assisted Hornberger’s political campaign and represented her in a Circuit Court case that challenged her compliance with financial disclosure reports required of candidates for office.

Despite Scott’s lack of local government legal experience, he is the apparent beneficiary of a significant salary boost over the former county attorney fired by Hornberger and her newly installed county administrator, Dan Schneckenburger. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/04/hornberger-budget-cuts-property-tax-rate-slightly-keeps-income-tax-boost-1-extra-for-schools-cuts-library-operations/ ]

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