Two small town council members involved in a council hearing on a contested town election, an ongoing dispute that ultimately was resolved in June by the state Supreme Court, admitted Thursday to Ethics Act violations.
Harpers Ferry Town Council member Hardwick Johnson and former member Charlotte Thompson entered into conciliation agreements with the state Ethics Commission for participating in the hearing on whether to count four provisional ballots from the 2019 town election.
Both commissioners were candidates in the town election, and won by margins of victory close enough for their elections to potentially be overturned if the four ballots were counted.
As part of its decision in June ordering that the four provisional ballots be counted, the state Supreme Court determined that Johnson and Thompson should have recused themselves from voting on whether to count the ballots.
On Thursday, the Ethics Commission approved conciliation agreements in which Johnson and Thompson admitted they had violated the Ethics Act provision that prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they have direct financial interest, in this case, the $2,000 annual salary paid to council members.
Both agreed to pay $750 fines, accept public reprimands, and to undergo ethics training.
The counting last month of the four provisional ballots did, in fact, change the composition of the council, with Nancy Singleton Case picking up enough votes to knock Thompson off the council.
Also during Thursday’s Ethics Commission meeting:
- Commissioner Terry Walker said the commission’s Personnel Committee has narrowed its search for a new Commission executive director to three finalists.
“We’re going into an executive session afternoon meeting to conduct interviews with the three candidates,” he told the commission Thursday morning.
Executive director Rebecca Stepto retired on July 31, and general counsel Kim Weber has been serving as interim executive director.
- Commissioners approved a number of employment exemptions, including exemptions for Tony Atkins, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health; and Jason Fauber, Division of Highways project development unit leader.
Under the Ethics Act, state officials and employees may not seek employment with regulated private sector businesses, but the law provides for exemptions if the prohibition on seeking private-sector employment amounts to a financial hardship.