October 8, 2023
This article was originally posted on the Easton Gazette, eastongazette.com
It’s really amazing when the people speak up. Whether it’s a small town, a county, a state or even the federal level, the people in charge, those responsible for the house of cards they created, get very upset. They lash out at those who challenge them. In some cases, fancy big-time lawyers who live in town tell the people they are embarrassed that the great unwashed should speak up and ask for answers. In other cases, they attack the persons or people who are speaking up, even those in public office. Sometimes they ridicule newly elected officials for their lack of experience, as if being new in a position makes an official any less effective. In fact, we know the opposite is often true. Just look at the long timers in Congress. More on that later.
So it is in our little town of Oxford. We have two new commissioners in office in our town. One was elected by an overwhelming majority because people wanted her to do just what she is doing, asking questions. The other was appointed by the minority in the town who want her to do what she is doing, rubber stamping everything.
Because the newly elected Commissioner Katrina Greer is asking questions about town finances and demanding answers from a highly paid town manager who wants all the power but bristles when people question her, those who have previously been in power are now resorting to cheap shots against Greer.
Enter former Town Commissioner John Pepe in a letter in the Star Democrat. (shown below) Mr. Pepe is a fervent supporter of the Oxford Town Manager Cheryl Lewis. That’s his right. However, it brings into question whether he has an objective unbiased view of Ms. Lewis. That is troublesome considering his long tenure and influence as a commissioner who evaluated her work. Because Greer made comments about Ms. Lewis’s performance in a recent interview, Pepe says this “warrants a trip to the woodshed with the ethics committee” for Greer. What will be exposed that he is afraid of? Or is he just clutching his pearls because questioning of Lewis might implicate him in poor stewardship of the town as a commissioner?
Funny he should mention ethics, since many in the town have been saying that ethics have been violated. Not by Commissioner Greer, but by the Town Manager and possibly some recent Commissioners.
The last eight months have exposed some of the actions of the Town Manager in conjunction with compliant Town Commissioners of the past. They range from nepotism in the hiring of a family member for a well-paid position, protecting financial and other public records from the view of citizens, overstepping her duties, resisting the posting of ANY type of information regarding town affairs including employee salaries, and questionable personnel actions in the sudden, unexpected retirement of a long time Police Chief and the selection of a new Chief of Police etc. Many point out the micro-management of every department in town by the manager, including law enforcement.
The issue Pepe references in his letter is that Lewis claimed she was unaware of a financial policy that existed for the town until she suddenly found it a few weeks ago. The Commissioners were in the middle of the discussion about creating a financial advisory committee for the town and suddenly, out of the depths of the town archives, this policy appeared. Convenient and suspect from a woman who overtly claims to know everything about all town business all the time. The discovery coincided with Lewis’s assertion that the town keep millions of dollars in a local bank instead of a Maryland Local Government Investment Group account where the money could earn the town substantially higher interest. This is what prompted Greer’s comment on Lewis’s job performance.
Pepe attempts to alleviate Lewis of responsibility for knowing the old policy by saying it was created before she was hired, and she had no reason to be aware of it. If that’s the case, no elected or hired public employees or officials would never have to know and abide by laws and regulations that existed prior to their tenure. That’s not how it works, John. If it was, we would all be a world of trouble and the world would be even more chaotic than it already is. It was her job to know. Period.
He also claims the policy was never enacted, something that is disputed.
Pepe seems to take personal offense at Ms. Greer’s questioning of town actions, claiming that her inquiries “not only tried to sully the reputation of the town administrator but has (SIC) called into question the decisions of every sitting commissioner since the mid-90’s as well as every yearly financial auditor that has been involved with the town finances.”
If only Mr. Pepe was as concerned about the reputation of several other town employees who have had their lives turned upside down by actions of the town administrator and commissioners. It seems that “sullying reputations” is a tactic this town is not averse to using against others.
Bottom line is there is a big difference between stating a truth about an employee’s obvious mistake as Ms. Greer did and removing long time town employees and then spreading lies and innuendos about the reasons for their departures as the town office has previously done.
Better think twice about who needs to go to the woodshed and address the ethics commission Mr. Pepe.
As for questioning the decisions of every sitting commissioner since the 90’s, that’s a given. It occurs at every level of government in this country and about every public official. It has for over 200 years. That’s what our country is built on, a healthy questioning of ALL decisions by public officials and employees. Uncomfortable for some, but it’s part of a government built on the will of the people. I’ll continue to do it and I hope every other citizen will do the same, including Commissioner Greer, even if she has only been in office for eight months.
Maybe if Mr. Pepe, a former Oxford Commissioner with extensive experience, posed more questions when he was in office, we would know more about how our town was being run. Maybe some terrible missteps would have been avoided or at least handled more professionally. Maybe citizen complaints would have been heard and heeded. We will never know because he didn’t ask questions. He let his “friend” in the town office handle everything.
Mr. Pepe, as a former commissioner, if you take offense at being questioned, you should never have run for office. I know you are good friends with the Town Manager. While I thank you for your time in public service and I applaud your loyalty to a friend, people who object to open questioning of town officials and employees know there is something to hide. I hope that doesn’t apply to you.
Afternote: I saw a great video the other day of citizens in a meeting in Chicago. They were protesting the influx of illegals into their community who were being housed in local facilities thus taking their availability away from the tax paying citizens. The citizens were not happy. Here’s a link:
Oxford, take heed.
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Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.