File a Complaint

Before you file a complaint….

--by J. Christoph Amberger, Director, Ethics Board.

J. Christoph “Chris” Amberger is an attorney and former Baltimore City prosecutor. In July of 2022, he was designated as the Director of the Baltimore City Ethics Board by Inspector General Isabel Cumming, who is the ex officio Executive Director of the Board.

There are a few misconceptions about what the Baltimore City Ethics Law and our Ethics Board are and what kind of authority they both have.

Let’s start with what the Board is not:

The Ethics Board is not:

  • a secret police checking on the morality, integrity, and values of Baltimore City employees and elected officials;
  • an enforcement agency of last resort for matters that do not fit criminal or civil causes of action;
  • above City, State, and Federal law.

The Ethics Law, contained in Article 8 of the Baltimore City Code, does not define what “Ethics” means in its context, or what “ethical conduct” is.

The Law vests the Board with specific and very limited authority. That does not include the authority to investigate:

  • criminal conduct;
  • civil misconduct;
  • procedural missteps in City government;
  • elected officials’ attitudes toward certain projects;
  • how elected officials vote;
  • who makes campaign donations to elected officials;
  • rude behavior or incompetence by City officials;
  • nuisances such as unauthorized storefronts or uncollected trash;
  • suspected ADA violations;
  • what a public official says in a private capacity;
  • seemingly unfair repeat parking tickets.

Any complaint that does not correspond to the express authority outlined in the Ethics Law is considered outside of the Board’s jurisdiction. Ethics staff will still review it thoroughly but likely dismiss it “for lack of jurisdiction”.

Please note that this does not reflect on the complaint’s merits. It just means the Board is not authorized by law to investigate. However, we will make every effort to either forward that complaint to the proper investigative authority or transfer it there ourselves.

What “Ethics” deals with

The Law’s main focus is on “conflicts of interests”. “Interest” here means any kind of financial, economic, or property interest that is held by a City ‘s public official and qualifying family members and that does or may raise the appearance of a conflict.

(This kind of “interest” includes, with exceptions, any interest in real property – such as home ownership or even tenancy --, partial or whole ownership in a business, debt owed to certain entities, being the third-party beneficiary of a fund or trust, even ownership of individual stocks.)

The Ethics Law:

  • requires all qualifying City officials to disclose the interests they and their close family members hold to the public every year;
  • requires every qualifying City official to be trained and understand the respective Ethics rules;
  • requires that City officials suspecting their interests may raise a conflict to notify their supervisors and to remove (“recuse”) themselves from any matter that could be considered a conflict of interest.

For example, a City planner is tasked to designate a street for re-development. His spouse operates an LLC that owns a vacant corner store on that street. That store would directly benefit from re-development (for example, by selling the property to the City, by holding out, or by raising its rent in anticipation of increased foot traffic.)

At a minimum, this creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Sometimes, a conflict of interest may arise when a former City employee goes to work for another company or enters “secondary employment” while still being employed by the City (meaning, starts a “side hustle”).

Conflicting duties

The conflict here is not necessarily of “property interest” but of conflicting fiduciary duties and seeming impropriety.

For example, X works as a City realtor and is responsible for finding buyers for City-owned properties. She also works as a realtor for a nationwide realty business and specializes in assisting developers finding appropriate City-owned properties to purchase. In other words, it appears like she is “playing both sides.” Here, her private “interest” in her “side hustle” (helping developers find suitable properties for compensation) appears to compete with her fiduciary duty toward her City job.


The Ethics Law directs many City officials to make their interests public, giving the public the opportunity to be informed about potentially conflicting interests.

The list is quite large: If you are a City employee who must file annual disclosures, you must disclose:

  • real property interests (even if you are a tenant!);
  • debt (mortgages, any debt owed to a person or entity that is doing business with or is controlled by your agency);
  • business interest of yourself and qualifying family (spouses, parents, children);
  • the addresses of your childrens’ work places;
  • gifts received from lobbyists, or people regulated by the City;
  • individual stock holdings.

Ethics staff must make sure that all qualifying City officials timely file their disclosures. The Board may investigate if a disclosure is submitted late or is deemed to be incomplete. In situations like this, Ethics staff will contact the City official with the request to supplement the information provided earlier.

Lacking a definition of “ethics”, a public official who violates a provision of the Ethics Law is not “unethical” – he or she merely is not in full compliance with the law and will be given ample opportunity to “cure” ore remedy the situation

Anyone may file a complaint with the Ethics Board if they suspect a violation of the Ethics Law. Your identity will be kept confidential. 

To file an Online Complaint Form, press "File Online" below.

You can also download the Ethics Complaint Form as a Word Document or as a PDF here and submit it to the Ethics Board by email to or by mail to:

       Baltimore City Board of Ethics
       100 N. Holliday St., Suite 635
       Baltimore, MD 21202   

If you have any questions about making a complaint or about the Ethics Law generally, please contact Ethics Board staff.