Reprinted from eastongazette.com
The mood at the Oxford Town Commissioners Meeting on Tuesday evening, July 11th, was one not seen for quite some time. Certainly, when the controversial retirement of Chief of Police Pat Maxwell was announced in February, the citizens of the town made it clear that they were frustrated and desired a new era of transparency and accountability for the town, their elected officials, and their employees.
Over the past few months, the Commissioners and the Town Manager attempted to convince the citizens that they had changed how they operated via appointing ad hoc committees and listening to recommendations about town matters, but the crumbs weren’t enough to counteract reality.
First, there was a petition signed by 217 residents to change the town charter for replacement of town commissioners if they left their positions early or died in office so that elections would be held. It was rumored that current commissioner Brian Wells and his wife were moving out of Oxford, thus forfeiting his seat. The amendment would require that an election be held to fill open spots on the Town Commissioners. A vote on a referendum to add that amendment to the town charter will be held on July 18th.The Commissioners made it clear they didn’t approve of the amendment despite the number of citizens who petitioned for it. Commissioner Tom Costigan made a speech to that effect at a town meeting.
Next, the election for the position of the outgoing President of the Commissioners, Jimmy Jaramillo, was overwhelmingly won by Katrina Greer who defeated Susan Delean Botkin. Greer is a strong supporter of accountability and transparency in town government. She is also a supporter of the amendment.
On June 26th, the current commissioners named Botkin, the runner up in the election, to the commission seat suddenly vacated by Commissioner Brian Wells. She was sworn into office one week before the actual winner, Greer. Many claimed the Commissioners had a plan to place Botkin on the Commissioners if she didn’t win the election. Botkin, who is currently an elected member of the Talbot County Board of Education, was sworn in on that day despite already holding another elected county office. (This does not follow State of Maryland law. Allegedly, Botkin supporters in the town say they have a “work around” for that law.)
Those events led to Tuesday’s meeting which included the swearing in of the winning candidate, Katrina Greer. The meeting room at the Town Office was standing room only. The meeting started with the usual Pledge of Allegiance. After that, Commissioner Tom Costigan asked for a motion that the minutes be seconded. When Greer, who was seated but not yet sworn in, attempted to second the motion, she was ironically corrected by Botkin who pointed out that this was against the rules. Botkin seconded and the minutes were approved. When Greer was sworn in by County Clerk Kathy DuVall, the room erupted with loud cheers and a standing ovation.
The next order of business was election of the President of the Commissioners. Botkin nominated Costigan and Greer seconded, but also added, ” I will second his nomination but will abstain from the vote.” She explained that she thought the Commissioners went against the will of the people of Oxford by rushing to appoint Botkin last week. She felt this was to subvert the rights of the citizens to choose their replacement for Commissioner Wells’ position. Again, loud cheers.
Costigan was elected President of the Commissioners without Greer’s vote.
When unfinished and new business commenced, it was clear the mood of the Commissioner meetings had changed. In the past, when the Town Manager, Cheryl Lewis, made a proposal or discussed a town project, the Commissioners would merely nod their heads and give rubber stamp approval to everything she suggested. With the addition of Greer, it has become clear that is no longer the case.
When discussing each project, each expenditure, Greer asked questions. When Costigan asked about “moving” on a certain resolution, she asked questions. She asked for processes to be reconsidered and reviewed, particularly procurement processes. The Town Manager presented a long list of town grant projects in place since 2012. She presented these since we had “two new Commissioners.” The overview seemed like testimony to justify her job. Botkin praised the overview. Greer asked that all these grants and bids be made public so citizens would know and understand what was going on.
As the meeting came to a close, a letter from one citizen of the town and a comment from another showed how things will be different. The first one was a letter written by resident Barbara Paca who requested full, line item disclosure of all grant expenditures, contracts, and results. She offered the town office assistance in the Freedom of Information Act request and cc’d the letter to the Maryland States Attorney’s office among state officials.
Then a resident of Oxford since 2006, voiced his disappointment and concern over the selection process for the appointment of Ms. Botkin to the Commissioners. He recounted how the retirement of Chief Maxwell had stirred up questions and mistrust of the Commissioners and Town Office. While the Commissioners talked a good game of building trust through transparency, the recent actions belied that talk. “The citizens were looking for transparency and trust. You had a chance to rebuild that. “It seems the Oxford Commissioners may have missed that opportunity. It will be hard, if not impossible, to regain.
The amendment to the Oxford Town Charter that will allow citizens to vote to replace Commissioners who leave office early will be voted on July 18, 2023 from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. at the Town Office.