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Reader Commentary | Conflict of Interest in the County Commissioner District 3 Race?

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Note: The following information is from a reader of the Carroll County Observer. All information in the article is the opinion of the writer and not the Carroll County Observer.

I met Zachary Hands, Democrat Candidate for Carroll County Commissioner District 3, at the Westminster Memorial Day Parade. We continued our campaign camaraderie throughout primary early voting at Westminster Senior Center. I like Mr. Hands, but that does not mean that I want him in positions of power, particularly as it pertains to my children, their education, and their future.

What does the candidacy of Zachary Hands have to do with the Board of Education beyond non-voting member status and budget oversight? Since 2018, Mr. Hands has been employed full-time as the Assistant to the State Superintendent of Schools – Special Projects (State Salary Grade 22, $64,608-$103,743). When Michael Zimmer ran for Commissioner in 2006, the Carroll County Ethics Commission ruled that he should resign from substitute teaching, a position deemed a (perceived) conflict of interest. Zimmer similarly cautioned fellow educator Dennis Frazier during his 2014 run for Commissioner. Mr. Frazier did not heed this advice, but the Ethics Board concluded that it was not a conflict of interest for Mr. Frazier to serve two masters, albeit as significantly more than a substitute teacher.

Presently, Carroll County struggles to exert sovereignty and maintain a distinct identity that represents the ideologies of her constituents, free from impositions of failed Annapolis cookie-cutter policies and Baltimore templates. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is such an example of the one-size-fits-all pitfall, one that Mr. Hands espouses on his campaign website. Per the Ethics Commission, there are no potential ethics violations to submit for consideration unless and until Mr. Hands is elected Commissioner. At that point, an influential State Board of Education employee could potentially vertically integrate the Democrat platform and his own personal ideology at both the state and county levels. Unless, of course, Mr. Hands resigns from his lucrative state position for a 28-year-old, a position arguably more an overt conflict of interest than substitute or gym teacher.

Even if the Ethics Commission allows Mr. Hands to maintain his state position, does that mean that a truly ethical decision has been made? Is the Ethics Commission infallible, with a history of ignoring precedent for personal or prevailing public sentiment? More importantly, can Carroll County afford to wait until after the election to adjudicate the ethical question and to determine whether further Annapolis encroachment through a State Board of Education employee is what she wants and needs?

Scott Willens – Westminster, MD


The Observer welcomes commentary from readers via letters to the editor. All comments become the property of The Observer, which reserves the right to review them prior to publishing to ensure the commentary meets with the standards of this entity.

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