County councilmembers expressed their extreme displeasure with County Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine’s punishment following his admission earlier this month that he violated county ethics when he promoted his book and maintained relationships with two businesses while serving as a county employee.
After an investigation by the county’s Office of Inspector General, Kleine was fined $5,000 for traveling to conferences on taxpayer’s dollars and then holding book signings while at those conferences. He also was found to have conflicts of interest with Balancing Act and Clear Impact and has agreed not to have any business with those companies, unless obtaining approval by the county Ethics Commission.
Many council members who spoke during their July 29 meeting thought Kleine should either have been fired or more heavily fined.
“I say this, as a Latino, had this been a minority or a person of color, would he or she would have been treated the same, I can’t say that for sure, which is a terrible thing to say,” said Councilmember Gabe Albornoz. “I don’t think this should be the end of this.”
Councilmember Nancy Navarro expressed concern that the highest ranking county employee breached an ethical line and maintained conflicts of interest with a side business. “If he doesn’t get it, how can we expect others to?” she asked. “I don’t know how we can, with a straight face, tell our employees” to be ethical, she continued.
“The ripple effect of a thing like this is profound,” Albornoz added.
“As the end of the day, this falls on the county executive,” said Councilmember Craig Rice, referring to Marc Elrich, who brought Kleine onto the county staff.
Council does not have the power to overturn a decision by the county’s Ethics Commission, which accepted the inspector general’s report. The commission, which opted to have the Inspector General’s Office conduct the investigation, is an independent organization.
Council members also said they hoped to work out a plan in which all employees when first starting work for the county would attend mandatory ethics training.
However, said Councilmember Andrew Friedson, “This is not a training issue. It is a clear violation of ethics and public trust.” What Kleine did “is a massive failure of judgement.”
Rahu Goel, chair of the County Ethics Commission, said he was satisfied with the Kleine investigation. “We got a full admission of violations with no ambiguity, and it’s a public document.”
The $5,000 fine covered expenses Kleine illegally accepted from the county.
On his Facebook page, Kleine lists his employment as Chief Administrative Officer at Montgomery County Government and President at Andrew Kleine Consulting.
To view the 32-page Proposal to Cure Possible Violations of the Ethics Law which includes details of the Kleine investigation, click here.