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Gazette Editorial

Establish separate ethics committee

The Ocean Pines Association’s Director and Officer Ethics and Conduct resolution, or B-08 as it is generally known, offers plenty to argue about, but its greatest problem is that it calls on board members to pass judgment on each other.

Given the inevitable political allegiances that board members form over the course of their terms, providing a completely neutral consideration of an ethics complaint could be difficult to achieve … or at least would be subject to second-guessing and speculation.

But doing away with the bylaw’s ethics provisions is the wrong solution. The better approach would be to return to the original proposal that called for a separate entity — an ethics committee — to examine and consider complaints about the conduct or conflicts of interest of officials and board members.

Without B-08, the bylaws don’t really spell out a procedure for dealing with such complaints, beyond the resignation and removal sections of the document.

B-08, meanwhile, is open to too much interpretation to be of much use, particularly as it involves the public aspect of ethics hearings and deliberations.

The declaration that members of the board of directors “shall be considered employees of the association,” for instance, gets around the state Homeowner’s Association Act’s open meetings requirement by turning a complaint into a personnel matter.

Of course, the directors are not employees, no matter what legal argument might be applied to justify that  designation. Still, it shouldn’t matter, since all accusations should be handled in closed session initially to protect the reputations of the accused from being tarnished or ruined unfairly.

An independent ethics committee could weigh any evidence in private and then release its findings to the board publicly. It then would be up to the board itself to handle the penalty phase.