Tag Archives: Ethics Commission

Volcano in Rockville

By Adam Pagnucco.

When the county council met yesterday to consider the case of admitted ethics violator and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine, one word alone can describe what happened: Eruption. Rockville was covered by a black cloud of ash and lava sprayed through the streets as the council held very little back. Montgomery County Government has never seen anything quite like it.

The basics are simple: last year, executive branch county employees (all of whom work under Kleine) complained to the ethics commission about his book marketing and his relationship with contractors with whom he had done private business and then had gone on to help obtain county contracts. After an investigation by the county’s inspector general, Kleine proposed a “cure” which involved the payment of $5,000 and his abstention from outside employment. The ethics commission accepted the cure and the county executive has allowed Kleine to remain as CAO. Seventh State has previously published columns on the issue on July 2, July 7, July 9 and July 27.

Kleine was not present at the council’s meeting, leaving ethics commission chair Rahul Goel and ethics commission staff director Robert Cobb to brief the council on Kleine’s ethics case. Before elaborating on the situation with Kleine, Goel and Cobb suggested a need for mandatory ethics training for all county employees, including elected officials. No one disagreed with that. But the council did not buy that ethics training alone would have prevented Kleine’s actions. What followed was a remarkable and unprecedented display by the council members in which some walked right up to the line of calling for the CAO’s resignation without actually crossing it. Consider these quotes from the briefing.


Council Member Nancy Navarro

Training is important but how would that have avoided this situation? And it’s one thing for an employee to have done something like this but when it’s the Chief Administrative Officer, that raises for me some concerns because the employees, the county government employees obviously are under the Chief Administrative Officer and it is very difficult with a straight face to say to our employees “you’re going to have to go to mandatory training” when the Chief Administrative Officer himself didn’t seem to understand the basics of ethics and conflicts of interest…

I personally still have some concerns regarding the ability of Mr. Kleine to be the Chief Administrative Officer of our county government when there was such a lapse in judgment regarding something like this.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz

I’m troubled that Mr. Kleine was not put on administrative leave during the course of the investigation and continued in his role as the head of procurement for our entire county through this investigation. I’m concerned that the county executive has not reached out to my colleagues and I to express how his administration has taken this matter extraordinarily seriously, how there has been, I believe, a statement from the county executive but not much more than that in terms of his comments on this particular matter.

Because the ripple effect of a situation like this is profound. What do we say to department heads who are also found guilty of similar violations? That you get one strike? You get a pass the first time around and yes, there is a cure, but the cure for the payment of $5,000 and the retainment of employment is significant in light of what we have seen. And I appreciate those recommendations and I also appreciate the recommendation of additional training.

But the broader question here is trust. And I worked in an executive branch for twelve years and know how important that trust is among colleagues. And I don’t believe enough has been done beyond this cure to repair the damage from the messaging that this sends to all the county government, that this sends to people that deal in their business with county government. And I don’t think quite frankly that this matter has been taken seriously enough by this administration. And that’s a concern.

Council Member Hans Riemer

This whole incident reinforces a concern that I have had about – and I think many people in the county government have had about the chief administrator’s work. The county executive has allowed him to really apply his personal business theory, his personal business practice, “turn the curve,” to his management of the county government. The county executive has required all of our departments to participate in something that really often feels like a demonstration project for a consulting practice. And it often feels like it substitutes jargon for real management initiatives. And that has been weighing on me for a lot of time. And I think that this report just raises some real questions about the continuing of the consulting business and really whether the intended – whether the chief administrator’s success is the county’s success. And I think that that is weighing on a lot of people and department heads and managers. And I think we do have an issue. We need to restore the confidence of this county government in the leadership of the executive branch.

Council Member Craig Rice

At the end of the day, this falls on the county executive. The county executive wants to continue to have the number two person in charge be a person who has committed serious ethics violations, that’s a choice he’s going to have to justify, that’s a choice that he’s going to have to stand up and say this is why he feels as though it’s comfortable to have this person still in charge in a leadership position.

Council Member Andrew Friedson

Public trust is the only currency that we have in public life. It’s all we have in terms of our ability to govern, and to me, this speaks directly to public trust. And it’s why I share many of the comments of colleagues of how disturbed and disappointed I am by the contents of the ethics report because that’s what this speaks to. And it’s not a member of the county government, it is not some county employee, it is the top county employee, the person who is in charge of running the government. And I speak similarly to comments that were made about – the comments about training. This is not a training issue. Let’s not obscure what happened here. This is specifically a clear violation of ethics and of public trust. That’s what it is. It is a massive, massive failure of judgment in the highest position in county government…

When we talk about this as being a cure, it’s kind of a euphemism. What this really is effectively is a plea agreement.


Volcanic eruptions can be hard to survive due to their pollution of the atmosphere, the danger of lava flows and the potential for subsequent discharges. In this case, the repeat discharge potential is real with multiple council members asking whether Kleine received special treatment (a subject for another time!) and requesting more information. Lava, like water, can drip drip drip.

With the council’s eruption threatening to bury the executive branch in a blanket of burning ash, the big question now is: why has the county executive allowed Kleine to stay? And will that continue?


MoCo’s Book Club

By Adam Pagnucco.

You might think of Montgomery County Government as an entity that finances schools, deploys police and fire fighters, maintains roads, administers social services, operates libraries and more. Yes, it is all of those things. But under the Elrich administration, it became one more thing:

A book club.

Imagine that you write a book. You think it’s a great book. It’s all about how to run a local government. And then you get a dream job actually running a local government. And it’s not just any local government – it’s a very prestigious one, with more than 8,000 employees who will now be working for you. You think this government is doing OK, but it could do a lot better if it was run in accordance with what your book says. So what are you going to do?

Encourage as many of your employees to read that book as possible.

That is one of the biggest themes pervading the bombshell report written by the ethics commission and the inspector general (IG) about Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine, the top manager in county government. Ethics complaints made by county employees last year resulted in Kleine admitting to breaking two provisions of county ethics law over issues related to his book, City on the Line, and his participation in getting two of his private business partners county contracts.

Kleine is not the star of the report. His book is. Over and over, it’s about the book.

The IG noted many details about the promotion of Kleine’s book inside county government. Consider the following excerpts from the report.


Multiple County employees reported to the IG that Mr. Kleine often spoke about his book to County employees and that they felt they needed to read it. OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] referred to City on the Line in its budget training sessions, after which County employees from various departments emailed that they needed a copy.

On December 10, 2018, Mr. Kleine retweeted a tweet from the program director of the political science program at UMBC at Shady Grove that stated, “#MoCo agency bosses are reading/having staff read incoming Chief Administrative Officer’s @awkleine’s book City on the Line. You should too. Available at Amazon for $35 http://a.co./d/hf7xUtV @UMBCpolisci @MarcElrich”

On December 18, 2018, a County Department Director emailed that City on the Line was “assigned to him as mandatory reading.” The CAO supervises County department directors and would be the person who could require certain work assignments from Department Directors.

On April 29, 2019, the Director of OMB emailed staff, “To help the office plan for outcome budgeting and the Turn the Curve initiative, we have five copies of the books City on the Line and Trying Hard is Not Good Enough. Please see me or Darlene if you want to borrow one. I also have coupons if you want to purchase your own copy of City.”

On June 6, 2019, an OMB employee emailed a telework plan that included reading City on the Line.

On July 1, 2019, the Director of OMB emailed his staff a compilation of takeaways from City on the Line.

On August 6, 2019, an OMB employee asked an OMB staff member and a Recreation Department budget specialist to draft a presentation for the Training Implementation Workgroup. “You can use City on the Line, Chapter 3… as a reference.”

A speaker note on the OMB & Training Implementation Workgroup September 2019 presentation, “Outcome Based Budgeting FY21 Operating Budget” stated that, “We can use the example – from City on the Line Pg 58/59.”

On August 14, 2019, an OMB employee emailed other staff, “As a suggestion, it may be advantageous to read the following materials to gain a better understanding of Outcome Based Budgeting and Turn the Curve thinking: City on the Line and Trying Hard is Not Good Enough.”

On August 19, 2019, a Recreation Department emailed, “Could you please order me a copy of City on the Line… we are discussing it in our work sessions and I am the only person in the group who does not have a copy. Plus we are receiving work assignments related to the information in the book.”

On August 19, 2019, a Department of Permitting Services employee emailed a request for City on the Line via 2-day shipping from Amazon and wrote, “I normally wouldn’t pay this, but we need this book to reference for outcome budgeting, which is a new way of budgeting this year.”

On August 23, 2019, a Department of Police employee emailed, “In the budget meetings I am going to they keep referring to a book ‘City on the Line.’”


And so the book was integrated into the operations of county government. Employees were being encouraged to read it and some felt left in the dark if they didn’t. That means books had to be acquired and someone had to pay for them. According to the report, the county spent approximately $3,000 to buy 89 copies of Kleine’s book. Kleine earned total royalties from all purchases of $3,157 on the book through the end of 2018. Royalties paid in 2019 and 2020 are not mentioned in the IG report.

Even this guy thinks all this book stuff is getting out of hand.

Kleine also promoted the book at events outside the county government while on work time. The screen shot below from the IG’s report details how 80 hours of Kleine’s official work time – charged to taxpayers – included book promotion.

Did Kleine’s activities create an appearance of improper influence? Here is what the IG’s report had to say about that:

Redactions like the ones above are made to protect witnesses. Because Kleine is still the CAO, these witnesses presumably remain Kleine’s subordinates if they are still employed by the county.

What should we make of all this?

Throughout the report, Kleine comes across as a man who wants to be a celebrity, a public management guru, who preaches things like “Turn the Curve” to build his brand, sell books, make speeches and get consultant contracts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but that’s not why taxpayers are paying him $280,000 a year. We need a nuts-and-bolts operations manager in this role, someone who makes the trains run on time and works on behalf of the taxpayers with no other agenda at play.

It’s incredible that this needs to be said, but the CAO should be running county government, not converting it into a royalty-generating book club.


Council Puts Elrich on the Spot Over Kleine

By Adam Pagnucco.

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.



County’s Top Manager Admits Violating Ethics Law

By Adam Pagnucco.

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.

Balancing Act

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.

Book Promotion

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.