HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — The Washington County Commission unanimously asked for the resignation of one of their own. The ethics panel said Commissioner Cort Meinelschmidt crossed a line and recommends he be forced off commission, but there are conflicting legal opinions, leaving things in limbo.
On a 4-0 vote, the commissioner was asked to step down after the county ethics commission said he “committed a troubling breach of trust” by taking COVID small business relief funds for his own business venture.
The final outcome, though, rests with the courts. County Attorney Kirk Downey has issued an opinion that the commission does not have the authority to remove one of its own. The Maryland Attorney General disagrees, stating that removal from the board is within its powers.
“The Washington County Commissioners voted four to zero to dismiss Commissioner Cort Meinelschmidt,” said Commission President Jeff Cline, “based on the judgment and opinion of the Washington County Ethics Commission and a ruling by the state’s attorney general.”
After the Tuesday vote, Commissioner Meinelschmidt left the meeting. The ethics panel said he took public funds for a business venture “in which he had a direct financial interest,” the Meinelschmidt Distillery in downtown Hagerstown. Meinelschmidt said he would return the money and he apologized.
10 days ago, the commission formally asked that he resign, but he refused. Commissioners had previously privately implored him to save the commission this embarrassment. There are two unresolved legal perspectives here. The commission has some important business on its agenda in the coming weeks, and this issue being in limbo could make it very difficult for the county to get on with its agenda.
WDVM News reached out to Commissioner Meinelschmidt for comment. We have not heard back.