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August 23, 2013

Political Nonsense v. Ethical Behavior

Joe Charlebois

When are transparent actions not transparent? When Democrats say they aren’t.


The State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found that three Frederick County Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act on June 15th of this year. The Compliance Board concluded that the Board of Commissioners was in violation of the Open Meetings Act when C. Paul Smith and Billy Shreve, who were invited to appear on the Frederick’s Forum hosted by WFMD’s Pattee Brown, were joined – by phone – for seven minutes by Commissioner Kirby Delauter, creating a quorum.


Under typical circumstances the Open Meetings Act would be adhered to as prescribed when three or more commissioners are present for the purpose of discussing and acting upon county business.  This was anything but typical. This was a panel-style discussion led by host Ms. Brown on the hottest political topic at the time. Ms. Brown invited Commissioners Shreve and Smith into the studio to participate in the discussion regarding the potential sale of the county-owned Montevue Assisted Living Center and Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center to a private entity.


The Frederick’s Forum program, which is widely known as the one place where Frederick’s public leaders from both sides of the aisle sit down and discuss today’s topics on a regular basis, is always an open meeting. The host consistently solicits phone calls from the public and the station WFMD- archives each broadcast on its website in the form of a podcast.


Interestingly, technical limitations of WFMD actually don’t allow for more than three people to be in direct communication with each other at any one time. So, in practical matters, the three commissioners were unable to “meet” at any one time.


The Frederick County commissioners’ legal argument that they never intended to circumvent the act was dismissed by the Compliance Board due to the subject matter involved. The Compliance Board refused to give credence to the argument that this was an “accidental quorum” because the pending sale of the county’s nursing home and assisted living center was discussed during the broadcast.


The phone call from Commissioner Delauter certainly was never intended to create the environment of a public meeting. In fairness, he felt obligated to call in and counter statements made on the air that he felt needed to be contradicted.


Of course, the complainants – Catherine Forrence and Kimberly Mellon – have no real concern for possible ethics violations regarding the Open Meetings Act. Rather their complaints are a “transparent” attempt to tar these three men with potential political baggage should any choose to seek elective office in the future.


Ms. Forrence, a former member of the county’s Planning Commission, is one of two individuals responsible for bringing forth the complaint. Ms Forrence is an anti-growth progressive whose actions as a planning commission member robbed Frederick citizens of millions of dollars by approving the Jan Gardner era down-zoning reforms without public debate!


The hypocrisy of Ms. Forrence as well as the interjection of Ms. Mellon – a Washington County resident – is political nonsense of the highest order.


When one puts into perspective the role that Ms. Forrence played in censoring public comment against re-zoning, to the role that a commissioner played in a seven-minute phone call on public airwaves to cover constituent concerns, one has to wonder, who is truly the unethical one here.


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