Councilmember Hans Riemer does not have a conflict of interest and can continue to push for all county employees to be vaccinated even though his wife works for Pfizer, which makes one of the vaccines, the Montgomery County Ethics Commission ruled Oct. 18.
The commission noted that the county’s vaccine policy has no impact on the large drug company, and therefore councilmembers are not prohibited from participating in matters related to whether the county should impose a mandate. However, the commission concluded, if Montgomery County ever directly purchases Pfizer’s vaccines, then there could be a conflict of interest.
The presidents of the International Association of Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1664, Fraternal Order of Police FOP Lodge 35 and United Food and Commercial Workers Union UFCW Local 1994 issued a joint press release Oct. 2 pointing to Riemer’s 2020 financial disclosure as earning stock and income from Pfizer.
Members of three local unions complained that Riemer was not totally transparent about his wife’s income, including that the family owns stock in Pfizer. But Riemer countered that he lists his wife’s job with Pfizer on his financial disclosure forms. He also noted that the county gets its vaccines free from the federal and state governments.
The ethics commission pointed out that Riemer does not have a conflict of interest as the county does not purchase products from Pfizer “and the number of doses that would be used as a result of the matter would be miniscule in relation to the administration of the company’s vaccines world-wide, in the United States, or in Maryland alone.” It stated that Pfizer is estimated to produce three billion doses this year.
It noted that the county has no contracts with Pfizer, the company is not located within the county and the county has not spent any money purchasing the vaccines.
According to the commission, Riemer has disclosed his wife’s employment and compensatory grants of company stock on his financial disclosure form each year.
Riemer and Councilmember Will Jawando sponsored a bill that would make it mandatory for county government employees to be vaccinated unless they had a medical accommodation.
Riemer requested on Oct. 13 that the ethics commission issue an opinion on the matter.
According to the commission, fewer than 700 employees as of Oct. 7 reported they were not vaccinated and fewer than 1,300 employees haven’t reported on their vaccine status. According to the county’s employment site, more than 10,000 people work in more than 30 department and agencies with the county government.
After learning of the ethic commissions’ ruling, the county council agreed that Riemer can sponsor and vote on COVID-19 legislation.
The council issued a statement, noting, “In the face of the largest and most challenging global pandemic in modern history, the County has consistently followed the latest scientific data and evidence in its decision-making. We will continue to evaluate this information, as we work together to protect public health and serve more than one million Montgomery County residents.”