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Posted at 4:57 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Md. ethics panel reprimands former Charles County register of wills

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Editors

The Maryland State Ethics Commission has reprimanded the former longtime register of wills for Charles County for telling commissioners in that county that she did not have a "retirement" plan, when in fact she had been paying into the state pension plan.

The ethics panel issued the reprimand to Sally C. Bowles (R), who served as register of wills in Charles from 1990 until November, when she was defeated by political neophyte Loraine Hennessy (D).

A man who answered the phone at Bowles's home in Newburg said she was on vacation and advised a reporter to call back next week. When asked whether he could reach Bowles, the man said she was unavailable for comment and hung up.

The reprimand stems from statements Bowles made to county commissioners in 2006. She told commissioners that she did not have a "retirement." At her request, the county commission voted to grant her a county pension that would have paid her as much as $75,000 annually. The post of register of wills pays more than $90,000 a year.

The vote upset some county workers and other registers of wills across the state, who said that Bowles was getting an unfair benefit.

According to the five-page ruling by the state ethics panel, in January 2008, the Office of the State Comptroller objected to Bowles being added to the Charles retirement plan. In April of that year, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to remove the register of wills from the county retirement plan.

During the public hearing in which the commissioners made that decision, Bowles apologized for any "confusion" her previous statements may have created.

In September 2008, the state ethics commission issued a complaint about Bowles, accusing her of intentionally misusing her position as register of wills in statements she made to county commissioners regarding her retirement.

State ethics law prohibits "an official or employee from intentionally using the prestige of his or her office for the private gain of that official or employee or the private gain of another individual," according to the ethics panel's ruling.

According to the ruling, Bowles recognizes that her statements to Charles County commissioners regarding her retirement "were inconsistent with the prohibition against the use of prestige in office" as detailed in the ethics law. Bowles waived having a hearing on the matter, and the ethics commission suspended any further proceedings against her. Bowles signed the order Nov. 19.

During her campaign, Hennessy said she decided to run for the post because of the ethical cloud surrounding Bowles.

By Ruben Castaneda  | January 5, 2011; 4:57 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections  
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