The Montgomery County Council has issued the statement below about Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine. Kleine, who is the highest ranking manager in county government and is answerable only to County Executive Marc Elrich, has admitted to two ethics violations related to promoting his book and helping two of his business partners get county contracts. The council says that it is “disappointed and troubled by the actions” of Kleine and intends to hold an “oversight meeting” on the matter. That said, only Elrich can decide what happens to Kleine.
The council’s statement appears below.
Montgomery County Council statement on July 1 Ethics Commission agreement with Chief Administrative Officer Kleine
ROCKVILLE, Md., July 7, 2020–Council President Sidney Katz made the following statement on behalf of the Montgomery County Council about the July 1 Ethics Commission agreement with Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine.
Our system of representative government depends on the people maintaining the highest trust in their elected officials and government employees. All Montgomery County residents expect and deserve public employees who are impartial and use independent and sound judgment when making decisions that impact more than one million community members.
The Council is disappointed and troubled by the actions of Chief Administrative Officer Kleine. We greatly appreciate the Montgomery County Ethics Commission and the Office of the Inspector General for investigating Mr. Kleine’s actions and bringing these issues to light. Montgomery County’s ethics law applies to all County government employees and elected officials and has standards in place to guard against conflicts of interest and improper influence and includes comprehensive ethical standards for conducting County business.
The Montgomery County Charter provides that Mr. Kleine serves at the pleasure of County Executive Elrich. As one of the highest-ranking employees in Montgomery County, Mr. Kleine has a heightened responsibility to instill trust among the public, employees and government leaders. While we acknowledge that Mr. Kleine has taken responsibility for his actions, we also encourage him to do everything in his power to work on rebuilding the community’s trust. Moreover, the Council will conduct an oversight meeting on this matter in July.
Last night, The Grille at Flower Hill, a restaurant in Gaithersburg, posted a complaint on Facebook about the county’s health department enforcing the county’s social distancing and mask rules. Specifically, the post said, “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.”
In response to huge pushback, the restaurant doubled down. “You are all missing the very premise of my post. Look at it this way, if you don’t like what is on TV or the radio…change the channel. You all act like i am physically forcing people to come into my restaurant. Every single person that has dined here had a choice and they all chose to eat here knowing full well the staff was not wearing masks.”
Here is just a small sample of the reaction this post generated.
Never, ever giving you or any other firm owned by you my business again.
You’re gonna do a good job at burying your business with this post. It would’ve been better for you to keep quiet about your stance on facemasks rather than post your ignorance for all of Facebook to see and share. Good luck in the coming months.
Publicly, I’d like to thank the health department for doing their jobs. You should be shut down.
Sorry to hear you are making this decision. We used to eat there every week. Not anymore.
Every major media outlet in the area knows about this post. Hope you love bankruptcy!
Will never eat here ever. Ever. EVER. That is if you keep your license.
Besides the total disregard for human lives, this message is totally unprofessional.
Thanks for being candid on how you don’t care about the well being of your staff and patrons.
You just lost my business and I will try to spread the word to any one who will listen regarding your lack of safety for your customers and staff!
Wow. Beyond irresponsible and inconsiderate. What is wrong with you folks?
You need science in your life.
I feel so sad for your employees.
I would not eat at a place that doesn’t care about my health.
I’ll let some investor friends know that a discounted restaurant space will be on the market soon. They’ve already built in disinfecting costs.
Andrew Kleine, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer and the highest-ranking non-elected employee of the county, has admitted to violating two provisions of the county’s ethics law and has offered to cure those violations in part through a $5,000 payment to the county. Bethesda Beat reported that Kleine was the subject of an ethics investigation in September 2019.
The document released today by the county’s Ethics Commission contains a summary of the violations and other related matters, the content of Kleine’s proposal to cure the violations, and a redacted investigatory report by the county’s inspector general with more detail.
The issues with Kleine involve two private companies – Healthy Outcomes Inc. (aka Balancing Act) and Clear Impact LLC. Kleine worked with the two companies when he was Baltimore City’s budget director. When Kleine left his position at Baltimore City, he formed his own company (Andrew Kleine Consulting LLC) and wrote a book. Kleine’s company entered into formal contracts with Balancing Act and had an “informal, mutually beneficial arrangement” with Clear Impact before he joined the county government. Kleine subsequently was appointed by County Executive Marc Elrich and confirmed by the county council as the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, the top manager in county government, in December 2018.
Kleine’s contracts with Balancing Act, which allowed the company to claim some of his book revenues, were terminated on January 24, 2019. Neither side derived any revenues from the book. Kleine “was involved in establishing the relationship between the County and Balancing Act” which led to a one-year county contract with the company for $9,880 on 12/21/18, while Kleine’s own contracts with Balancing Act were in effect. The commission wrote:
Mr. Kleine understands that the ethics law prohibits him from participating in any matter with a business that he has a contract with, if the contract could reasonably result in a conflict between private interests and public duties. (19A-11(a)(2)(E)). Although Mr. Kleine never received any funds from Balancing Act, Mr. Kleine acknowledges that he violated this provision of the Ethics Law.
In May 2019, Balancing Act – now a county contractor but no longer in a contractual relationship with Kleine – sponsored a signing for Kleine’s book which earned him $42 in royalties for 20 books. The commission wrote, “While having the book signing was Balancing Act’s idea and the gain was very small, Mr. Kleine further realizes there has to be a complete severance of his private business activities and his official duties.”
Clear Impact LLC
Clear Impact paid $5,000 to Kleine for book promotion expenses on July 1, 2018 in return for having its logo printed on the back of Kleine’s book. The commission wrote, “At Mr. Kleine’s request, the Leggett administration engaged Clear Impact in a $10,000 non-competitive contract to facilitate the work of the Elrich Transition Team, starting the day after the election.” In May of 2019, Clear Impact won a $99,000 competitively bid contract to which Kleine remained at arm’s length.
The commission wrote, “As of September 30, 2019, the County and its employees had purchased 89 copies of the Book, although Mr. Kleine was unaware at the time that County funds were used to buy those books.” The commission went on:
Mr. Kleine was invited on a few occasions to discuss the Book and his strategy for budgeting while he was at conferences or meetings he was attending in connection with his County work. Where these activities required use of County resources or of Mr. Kleine’s title, or otherwise appeared to be conducted as part of Mr. Kleine’s official duties, Mr. Kleine recognizes such activities constituted a misuse of County resources and/or a misuse of the prestige of Mr. Kleine’s office.
The commission noted that Kleine did not seek advice from the County Attorney or the Ethics Commission on the ethics implications of his relationships with Balancing Act and Clear Impact or his book promotion.
Outside Employment Approval
The commission wrote:
Mr. Kleine did seek outside employment approval from the Ethics Commission in late April of 2019 to engage in consulting and promotion of the Book through the Company [ed. – Kleine’s own company]. While the Commission approved the request on June 6, 2019, the Commission had not been informed of the relationships between Mr. Kleine, the Company, and Balancing Act, of Mr. Kleine and Clear Impact, the Book’s relevance to the budget strategy being implemented in Montgomery County, and the lack of separation between promotional activities associated with the Book and Mr. Kleine’s official position. In addition, Mr. Kleine recognizes that he should not have been engaged in any activity resulting in earned income (no matter how minimal) prior to receiving outside employment approval in accordance with requirements in the ethics law. Mr. Kleine acknowledges that his doing so violated 19A-12 of the Ethics Law.
Kleine’s Proposed Cure
Kleine had already terminated his contracts with Balancing Act and removed references to Balancing Act and Clear Impact from his professional website. Kleine proposed to cure the ethics violations through the following additional measures.
Forfeit his approval of outside employment.
Stop promoting the book to county employees and others.
Remove references to his occupation and to Clear Impact from the book’s website.
Not be involved with any matters concerning Balancing Act or Clear Impact without obtaining advice or a waiver from the Ethics Commission.
Direct the county’s chief procurement officer to ensure that no further county funds are spent purchasing his book.
Pay the county $5,000 within 30 days of his proposal to cure the violations.
The commission’s website indicates that it has accepted Kleine’s proposed cure, thereby making its report a public document.
Congratulations to former Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman for making our top ten!
The break-out story of the month was the one about the Talbot Boys statue, which was shared dozens of times across the Eastern Shore. Now that Mississippi has removed the confederate battle flag from its state flag, there is no longer any excuse for Talbot County leaders to continue honoring the Confederacy.
Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-39) has told the New York Times that he was fired from his position at MCGEO, the union that represents most non-MCPS county employees, because of his legislative work on reforming police departments. According to the Times:
When Gabriel Acevero, a Maryland state legislator employed by a union local, introduced a bill last year to roll back protections for police accused of misconduct, he was stepping on a potential fault line. His union, Local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, represents thousands of Black and Latino workers in food services and at a variety of government agencies. It also includes a small portion of workers in law enforcement.
That fault line turned out to be a chasm that could swallow him up. In mid-June, Mr. Acevero filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the union of illegally firing him because of his reform advocacy.
“The reason why I was terminated,” Mr. Acevero said, “was about legislation.”
MCGEO President Gino Renne was also interviewed by the Times. Read the entire article here.
The premise of the petition drive by Nine Districts for MoCo is that the current structure of the Montgomery County Council does not allow for fair representation for residents in the Upcounty because seven of the nine Councilmembers live Downcounty. As it has been since 2006, all four At-Large Councilmembers live south/southeast of Rockville. The problem isn’t gerrymandered districts. The problem is voter apathy. The Upcounty simply does not vote at the same percentage as the County overall.
First the data.
The source of this data is the 2018 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary. For better or worse, local elections are decided in the Democratic primary and have been since 2006. Given the current party affiliations of registered voters in the county, changing the make-up of the County Council to nine district seats will not change that. If the reason behind the push for 9 district seats is geographic representation, we have to look at the Democratic primary to see why we are where we are and what we can do to change it. Focusing on the primary also underscores why it has been so difficult to change the paradigm.
Every 10 years councilmanic districts are redrawn to provide an equal number of residents for each district. Theoretically Upcounty Districts 2 and 3 should have as much say in any given election as Downcounty districts, such as District 1 in Bethesda or District 5 in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
Granted, while each district starts off with the same number of residents, there are differences in the number of registered voters in each district. Regardless of the number of residents, the number and percentage of registered voters is lower in the Upcounty than in other areas of the County. There are also more Republicans and Independent voters in the Upcounty. The disparity in the total number of registered Democrats in the Upcounty makes a difference in the number of votes cast, but the fatal discrepancy is in the percentage of eligible Democrats who vote. Looking solely at turnout of Democratic voters, Council District 2 lags behind the rest of the County by 7 percentage points and significantly falls short of District 1 (Bethesda / Potomac) by 17 points.
The concept of Upcounty / Downcounty is an informal distinction with no true definition. As an Upcounty activist, I define the area to be North-Northwest of Rockville to include all of Council District 2, parts of D3 (Gaithersburg) and parts of D1 (Darnestown and Poolesville). The total Upcounty results are very similar to the D2 results with 29% of registered Democrats voting in the 2018 Gubernatorial Primary. Of course, the Upcounty isn’t monolithic. We have Poolesville and Darnestown areas voting at roughly 38% and the areas of Germantown and Montgomery Village with 28% voter participation rate. [NOTE: Election results are not reported by geographical area. The Upcounty breakdown data is based on individual precinct data aggregated for each of the areas identified.]
The same pattern is seen when looking at the State Legislative Districts. Upcounty District 39 continues to be the lowest voter turnout in the County, election after election. Historically, District 15 also had low voter turnout. However, in 2018 there was a contentious battle for an open Congressional seat and we saw a significant increase in voter participation in the district.
The Upcounty doesn’t vote and nobody cares.
I understand that is an inflammatory statement. However, the lack of voter turnout in the Upcounty is not new by any stretch. Council District 2 has had the lowest voter turnout, as has State District 39, as far back as I remember looking at the data. Every so often someone – myself included – will become outraged and try to light a fire of activism that quickly peters out. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a systemic get out the vote (GOTV) effort in the Upcounty for the Democratic primary. There are 3 basic reasons why:
1. The current system works for everyone in power so there is no impetus for change. For candidates, including incumbents, it doesn’t really matter how many people vote. It just matters that you get the most votes. In every election I’ve ever seen, there is never enough time or money to reach every registered voter, let alone every potential voter. The most effective strategy is for candidates to reach out to the people who are most likely to vote – the “Super Dems” – which does not expand the voter base. In fact it perpetuates a small sliver of voters being responsible for determining our local elected body.
2. Similarly, candidates, including incumbents, go where the votes are. The first thing a candidate learns in How to Run for Office 101 is to know your number. How many votes do you need to win and where are you going to get the votes? If a higher percent of residents vote in the Downcounty, a candidate running At-Large will focus time and money in the geographic areas that turn out the most voters.
3. Another important factor is the role of the Democratic Party. Of course they want to increase voter participation, but their ultimate goal is to get Democrats elected in the general election. Because the primaries are partisan by design, the various democratic clubs don’t often actively engage in the primaries. While there may be some GOTV activity for the primary, the major push is for the general.
Does it really matter where the At-Large Councilmembers live if they still represent the whole County?
Yes. It’s a matter of representation which boils down to familiarity and exposure. As an active member of the community, a Councilmember is going to have a fluent knowledge of their own community much better than they do in other parts of the County – the schools, roads, parks, public safety, community structure, etc. In discussing transportation funding, it is so much easier for a Councilmember living in Silver Spring to understand the issues impacting Colesville Road than it is to fully understand the need for a road like M-83 – and if you had to look up what M-83 is, you proved my point. An At-Large Councilmember will continue to become more entrenched in their own community just by the nature of the geography. If there are a number of community events on a Saturday afternoon, it is much easier for a Councilmember who lives in Downcounty to hit three events in Silver Spring than come to events in Germantown. It’s also much easier for them to stop by an event on their way home from Rockville or drop by an event close to home between an early dinner and putting their kids to bed.
I’ve been working with At-Large members of the County Council for over 20 years in my job and in my community work. Through the years, some have done a much better job than others in being present and representing the Upcounty. I believe in the important role and function of the At-Large members of the County Council and do not advocate abolishing the At-Large seats, although I am intrigued by Adam Pagnucco’s recent blog post on increasing the number of geographic districts.
What’s the solution?
If the incumbents, candidates, and the party aren’t going to increase voter participation in the Upcounty, we need to take individual responsibility for our own representation and do what we can to get out the vote. Imagine if the time, effort and funding of the Nine Districts for MoCo initiative was spent registering Upcounty voters, educating those already registered about the importance of the gubernatorial primary in Montgomery County, and then working – as hard as they are working now – to actually Get Out The Vote on primary election day. If every person who signed the Nine Districts petition made it a personal goal to increase voter participation in the Upcounty, we could make it happen.
Looking again to the 2018 primary, if the Upcounty turnout was the same as the County’s overall average, we would have had 6,000 more votes in the Upcounty. That most likely wouldn’t have changed the results of the At-Large race. However, if the Upcounty turnout was the same as the average turnout for District 1, we would have had almost 16,000 more votes which most likely would have. At the very least it would tell future candidates that the Upcounty matters.
Marilyn Balcombe is a resident of Germantown who ran for County Council At-Large in 2018.