Ethics questions surrounding St. Michaels candidates

The eight candidates vying for one of the four St. Michaels Town Commissioners seats open for election participated in a virtual forum on Tuesday, July 7.

ST. MICHAELS — With the election looming on Monday, ethics issues aren’t resolved for the town of St. Michaels. Eight candidates are vying for a seat as town commissioner for St. Michaels. While one was the subject of an ethics complaint that was recently resolved, another candidate has been the subject of several lawsuits.

Commissioner William E. Boos was cleared by the St. Michaels Ethics Commission in April, following a year-long process involving the Talbot County Circuit Court and an open hearing in February.

However, the ad hoc St. Michaels Action Committee has taken out full-page ads in today’s Star Democrat and written letters to the editor that continue to question the decisions made surrounding the future of the town office and Boos’ alleged motivations surrounding those decisions.

Questions about Jefferson C. Knapp’s eligibility for town commissioner are being raised by concerned citizens.

Knapp, a building contractor who also serves as president of the St. Michaels Planning and Zoning Committee, has been the subject of several tips received by The Star Democrat.

Public records that show Knapp has been cited by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation for operating as a contractor without a license — a crime in the state of Maryland — for work done on a residence in St. Michaels. Information obtained from the town of St. Michaels shows that the homeowner was required to have a second contractor complete the work.

In addition to the DLLR citation, Knapp is listed as the defendant in several lawsuits throughout the state of Maryland. These lawsuits claim that Knapp hired businesses for goods or services but failed to pay.

Many cases have been closed, but according to court records seven remain open with outstanding judgments totaling $91,429.89 that have not been paid. Locally these cases involve The Appliance Source, Bailey Marine Construction and Shore United Bank. They also include Capital One, Citibank, J.F. Johnson Lumber Company in Anne Arundel County and Thos. Somerville Co.

In a phone interview on Saturday, July 11, Knapp addressed both the DLLR citation and the outstanding judgments.

“About the license — to go into those details, I was being treated for Lyme disease,” he said. “Things got forgotten during this time. I have been licensed my entire career, and there was a lapse when it came time to renew.”

He pointed to the recession that began in 2008 as the source of the judgements against him.

“It hit the construction industry and the real estate business hard,” Knapp said of the recession. “I’m making payments on those every month. I also have a tax lien that I’m paying on monthly.”

“I’m not proud of it,” he added, “but stuff happens and I’m slowly taking care of it.”

The League of Women Voters of the Mid-Shore of Maryland held a video forum with all candidates participating on Tuesday, July 8.

The forum was a roundtable discussion with several questions, and each candidate had one minute to answer each question. All eight candidates were given two minutes for an opening statement about their reasons seeking election and 90 seconds for their closing statements. Glenna Heckathorn of the League of Women Voters served as the moderator for the event.

The candidates seeking election include David Breimhurst, T. Coleman “Tad” duPont, William C. Harvey II, Knapp, and incumbents Michael E. Bibb, Boos, Dennis F. Glackin, and Joyce D. Harrod.

There are five seats on the Commissioners of St. Michaels — four of them are up for election this year.

Elections for commissioners are staggered, so roughly only half of the commission changes on any given election year.

This year is different because Michael Gorman, who was elected in 2018, moved to California. His seat was filled by Glackin as an appointment by the remaining commissioners until the upcoming election, when voters will decide who fills the seat for the remaining year. Glackin is running to to stay for the remainder of the term.The other seats up for election are currently occupied by Boos, president; Bibb, vice president; and Harrod, treasurer. All three incumbents are running for reelection.

There are no term limits for commissioners in St. Michaels.

During the video forum, candidates gave their views on topics affecting St. Michaels, from the current COVID-19 pandemic, to readdressing the town office location, to their views of the role of ethics.

In discussions about the importance of ethics, many candidates discussed looking at the ethics ordinance and rewriting it.

Harvey, who is nationally licensed to teach ethics, believes that it is critical for the government to have the necessary checks and balances and be open and transparent.

“I plan to uphold what I believe is the essence of good government, which is ethical accountability and open treatment of all its residents and anybody who comes before us,” he said.

Knapp spoke of his time teaching a home inspection course at Chesapeake College and about the unethical nature of someone not only building or repairing a home but also inspecting it.

Referring to Boos, he said, “When you’re involved in something else and there’s something that comes before the commissioners, you need to recuse yourself.”

“You have to be very, very transparent and clear about everything so we don’t have this problem again,” Knapp said, referencing the ethics hearings over the past year.

During the video forum, Boos shared his thoughts. “This judge said that he disagreed with our ethics procedures,” Boos said. “You know, we’ve got people in positions — volunteers for the most part — that tried to do a really good job for the town, as far as conducting their mandate.”

“The ethics commission in this whole process just followed the rules,” Boos added. “So I totally agree we ought to look at it. And I’m willing to sit down with anybody, absolutely anybody and look at that.”

In 2010, the Maryland House and Senate passed legislation requiring candidates for elected offices to submit financial disclosures and information about potential conflicts of interest. The town filed for an exemption requests with the State Ethics Commission, but all requests were denied. The state required that an ethics ordinance or letter from the commissioners explaining the plan be put in place by September 2013.

The possibility of an ethics ordinance that required all candidates for St. Michaels commissioner seats to disclose their finances prompted one commissioner, Tad DuPont, to resign in August 2013. DuPont said at the time that having a financial disclosure provision in the town’s ethics policy would limit the amount of qualified candidates who run for office.

“In reviewing the present and received ethics ordinance as imposed on the town of St. Michaels by the state of Maryland, I feel that said ordinance is a huge invasion of privacy,” duPont said in a letter to the commissioners at the time.

In September 2013, then-commissioners of St. Michaels adopted a new ethics ordinance that was in compliance with the state’s model for small municipalities.

However, residents petitioned for a referendum on the new ordinance — which took place on Feb. 3, 2014. The new ethics ordinance was voted down by residents who feared that requiring financial disclosures would hinder the town’s ability to find candidates for elected office. The town of St. Michaels then applied for another exemption and was granted one.

The Maryland State Ethics Commission’s website states “The financial disclosure forms require the filer to identify real estate interests, equity interests, and other relationships such as employment, debts and gifts so that the public can be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of those officials and employees will be maintained.”

Voters can watch the video forum on Facebook at facebook.com/athomeinstmichaels, or on the town’s website at stmichaelsmd.gov.

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