Ashman Faces Ethics Complaint Over Endorsements

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman | File photo

The Gaithersburg Ethics Commission will be asked to consider a question that might have seemed long settled: When can one politician endorse someone else in an election?

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman has expressed his support for the two city council incumbents seeking re-election — Yvette Monroe and Michael Sesma.

That support allegedly runs afoul of city ethics rules that prevent city officials from using the prestige of their office for private gain.

Ashman on Tuesday dismissed the complaint.

“This is just a frivolous end of the campaign—an October-surprise-type tactic,” he said.

On Nov. 7, city voters will choose whether to re-elect Monroe and Sesma, or to elect one or both of their challengers, Jim McNulty and Laurie-Anne Sayles. Ashman also faces re-election, but he’s running unopposed. All Gaithersburg races are nonpartisan.

Sayles and city resident Aaron Rosenzweig have complained about the support Ashman has shown to the incumbent city council members. In her formal complaint, Sayles faults Ashman’s verbal support for Monroe and Sesma at an Oct. 11 candidate forum and a one-page written endorsement that was sent under letterhead that reads “From the desk of Mayor Jud Ashman.”

In bold type, the letter says: “I’m proud to support the incumbents, Mike Sesma and Yvette Monroe, and I hope you’ll consider them as well, voting for them November 7th.”

Sayles read her complaint into the record of last week’s Board of Supervisors of Elections meeting. The board forwarded the complaint to the city’s ethics commission.

Rosenzweig distributed an email that alleged a “new ethics violation” in the subject line, also claiming Ashman violated the ethics ordinance. On Monday, Rosenzweig said, “It does carry a lot of weight. I think it’s unfair to the new people.”

Sayles said Ashman could have avoided the ethics complaint.

“Had he written the letter in his personal capacity, I don’t think the impression would have been confusing, and he might not have been in violation,” she said. “I want to make sure this election is done in a transparent and above-board way.”

The three-member ethics commission is scheduled to have a meeting at 2 p.m. Friday, city attorney Lynn Board said. The meeting will initially be open to the public, then the commission will go into closed session to address Sayles’ letter, she said.

“It is something to look into and something to discuss,” Rosenzweig said.

If the commission finds a violation, it could issue a cease-and-desist order, and it may ask Montgomery County Circuit Court to enforce the order. The commission also could issue a fine of $500. In addition, anyone in violation of the city’s ethics ordinance could be subject to a personnel action, suspension of a city salary, or suspension or removal from office.

McNulty, the other challenger in the race, was not part of the complaint.

“I have a good relationship with Mayor Ashman. I’ve always found him to be an honorable man,” McNulty said. “And I don’t believe there was any intention to confuse the voters. I just think he was endorsing his colleagues.”

Here is Ashman’s written endorsement of Monroe and Sesma:

Here is Sayle’s complaint:

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Douglas Tallman

About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug


7 Responses to “Ashman Faces Ethics Complaint Over Endorsements”

  1. Avatar
    On October 31, 2017 at 5:24 pm responded with... #

    Look closely at the letterhead on both letters if you want to do your job.

  2. Avatar
    On October 31, 2017 at 10:48 pm responded with... #

    Great quote from Jud Ashman in this article: “This is just a frivolous end of the campaign—an October-surprise-type tactic”

    It’s like the pot calling the kettle black because it was his letter dated Oct. 23 just days before early voting that was the end-of-campaign-surprise.

  3. Avatar
    On November 1, 2017 at 9:40 am responded with... #

    Since 2013 Gaithersburg’s ethics laws have not met State standards. In 2015 Hogan’s office cited Gaithersburg as not having a “good faith” effort in doing the bare minimum to combat political corruption. You can see it by going to:

    I (Aaron) asked the city to be compliant with state ethics laws – January 17, 2017 – not just now – not all the sudden – these incumbents don’t care – they’ve taken no corrective action.

    If Gaithersburg City Incumbents feel the rules are too restrictive, that they want to continue to receive “gifts” from those seeking to do business with the city and not report interests in real estate outside city limits (but could be annexed in)… shouldn’t they first be fully compliant and then lobby to ease those restrictions?

    If Gaithersburg City Incumbents already are disclosing, of their free will, everything the State wants – then why not make their ethics laws compliant? After all, doing so might reduce the number of candidates for office (their main argument) and isn’t that what this letter “from the desk of the Mayor Jud Ashman” is trying to do anyway? Prevent new people from being elected?

    This election cycle please vote for candidates who will challenge the brazen disrespect of laws. Vote for Laurie-Anne Sayles and Jim McNulty – let’s try someone who might at least respect state law.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  4. Avatar
    On November 1, 2017 at 11:49 am responded with... #

    Before you judge anyone look closely at both letterheads. Jud is the Mayor. Laurie Ann is not on the Gaithersburg City Council.

  5. Avatar
    On November 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm responded with... #

    Oh so is Laurie-Anne on the City Council now? Shouldn’t her letterhead state that she is a Candidate for Gaithersburg City Council?? I mean the person misrepresenting themselves is Ms. Sayles not Mayor Ashman. Sounds to me like Aaron should have run for Mayor if he feels so strongly about what is best for the city. Her website, name badge, and signage also state “Gaithersburg City Council” not Candidate . These complaints are #fakenews and smell of desperation in the name of “transparency”.

  6. Avatar
    On November 2, 2017 at 12:19 am responded with... #

    This complaint, which has also been discussed on the website, is based on a contorted, illogical, and ultimately incorrect reading of Sec 7A-4(h) of the City’s Ethics Code, which says that public officials shall not “Intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for the private gain of that official or employee or the private gain of another.”

    A problem here is that the complainants are misreading “private gain.” An election to public office is not a private matter, and given the personal sacrifice required, arguably not a gain. More to the point, the complaint focuses on “the private gain of another,” in reference to an endorsement of other candidates. However, the regulation also refers to “the private gain of that official.” The interpretation of the Code required by the complaint would also prohibit incumbent elected officials from using the “prestige of their offices” to support their own candidacies for re-election. This is patently ludicrous.

    Public officials and candidates for public office routinely give, seek, and accept endorsements among themselves, at all levels of government. I doubt that anyone has considered this unethical behavior, before now. These complaints may have been intended as political smear on the ethics of a candidate, but they only serve to highlight the bad judgment of those who filed them.

  7. Avatar
    On November 2, 2017 at 11:19 am responded with... #

    “Private gain” is not defined in the City Code – it should be – but it isn’t. “Private” does not only mean “behind closed doors.” Private means of special benefit to one person.

    If an incumbent pays for a mailing and asks the Mayor to endorse them, they privately benefit from that endorsement. If that endorsement leads to their re-election they will again be rewarded a salary, which privately benefits them, plus the power to enact new legislation.

    Even though this endorsement, and this letter funded by the incumbents, happened in the public view it still privately benefits the incumbents.

    Additionally – The Mayor and the two incumbents have effectively formed a “slate” without formally filing as one and without creating a PAC for proper financing. If they are going to operate as a “team” as this letter says – they should be clear and frank about that.

    Plain and simple – the Mayor wants “yes men/women” – the Mayor is afraid that if Laurie-Anne and/or Jim McNulty are elected they will not be his puppets. We need them to back up Rob Wu who is the only person willing to stand and fight for fairness in decision making.

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