As a Dec. 8 court hearing approaches, the Ocean City Ethics Board still has no money to pay for its legal representation in litigation filed as a result of one of its rulings.
A presentation by Ethics Board Chairman Stanley Pszczolkowski at Tuesday's City Council meeting answered some questions, but Council took no action on a resolution that would transfer $22,000 to pay for Ethics Board legal expenses.
City Council voted to table the resolution at a Nov. 10 meeting and questioned whether the city can afford to maintain the board. Council took no further action on the resolution after hearing the presentation on Nov. 29.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Operations Director Tom Mullineaux is appealing an Ethics Board finding of two alleged ethics violations related to changing scores on lifeguard requalification tests. Mullineaux was fined $100 for each violation. An Administrative Law judge is scheduled to hear the appeal on Dec. 8, Pszczolkowski said.
"We do need an attorney immediately," he said.
Pszczolkowski characterized the appeal as the result of a particularly complex complaint that started with "six or seven inches of paper" alleging 10 separate ethics violations by Mullineaux and former Ocean City Fire Chief Joseph Foglio. The complaints were filed by former Ocean City Beach Patrol member Mike Hamilton.
The Ethics Board found no violations by Foglio, and Hamilton appealed that decision. It found two violations against Mullineaux, who also appealed.
Hamilton dropped his appeal as part of a recent . Mullineaux's appeal continues.
Pszczolkowski said the board has spent only $1,500 in the more than four years of its existence (some for training seminars for board members and some for stenography). He said Ethics Board decisions have been upheld without cost to the city by the state's Local Finance Board in a number of other appeals.
Councilman Scott Ping asked if it's worth $22,000 in legal fees to collect $200 in fines.
"Where are the limits?" he asked. "What can we afford?"
But he acknowledged that the city should pay the expenses in the short term.
"We have to do what we have to do as far as putting that money forward," he said.
In public comments, attorney Ed Price recalled an old ad slogan — "You can pay me now or you can pay me later" — and said, "The Ethics Board is like the oil filter of our government."
He suggested a vigilant Ethics Board could be funded for several years with savings from the improper billings it could prevent.
"Do not be short-sighted and vote to abolish this board," he said.
Ocean City resident and recent Third Ward candidate Steve Fenichel also spoke in favor of retaining the Ethics Board.
"What price do we put in restoring a sense of confidence among our citizens?" he asked.
Even Hamilton spoke in favor of the Ethics Board. He told City Council that trying to address his compaints through the city's Personnel Department was unsatisfactory and that trying to do so through a state Ethics Board would be a long process.