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County’s ethics code gets unanimous OK

CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County residents who serve on the county’s boards and commissions must now sign and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.

Commissioner Lyn Widmyer’s code of ethics, first introduced May 1, was unanimously approved by her board colleagues when they met last week.

Commissioners made little comment, except to add a clause that not only would new appointees be required to sign the ethics code, but also members now serving on boards and commissions.

“I consider this a high point of my term on the commission,” said Widmyer, who declined to run for another term.

The new ethics code requires appointees and members to disclose any personal interests related to an issue under deliberation by the board or commission. They must abstain from ruling on any issue in which they have a personal interest.

The code also stipulates that a member must refuse gifts or favors from people involved in an issue or matter under consideration and must exercise fair, honest and independent judgment. Members are prohibited from using confidential information acquired in the course of their duties to further personal interest and cannot discriminate against or harass others.

Appointees and members also will be informed that failure to follow the ethics rules could result in removal from a board or commission as well as fines and jail time.

Widmyer has said that her conduct guide is based on a similar code of ethics adopted by the American Planning Association, a nonprofit representing city and regional planners throughout the United States.

When Widmyer introduced the idea, other board members expressed skepticism. The loudest opposition came from Commission President Walt Pellish, who called the code unnecessary.

Nonetheless Pellish voted May 29 to OK the code.

In an email after the meeting, Pellish said “the matter is not worth the time to comment.”

Commissioners also have discussed the idea of providing training to appointees and possibly requiring that they take a class on ethical conduct.

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