It was standing room only again at the October 24th meeting of the Town Commissioners meeting. That's the way it's been at every meeting since February of this year when the Commissioners announced the surprise retirement of the long-term police chief Pat Maxwell. Many people of Oxford were activated to get involved with town politics by that event and started to demand transparency and change in the town government. This is evidenced by increased citizen participation in meetings, elections, etc. and more opinions being stated.
Tuesday night was no different.
The evening began with the obligatory reports from maintenance and the police chief and approval of the minutes.
The minutes from a recent closed meeting on 10/12/23 and the workshop 10/14/23 along with meeting minutes from 10/12/23 were approved.
From there, the Resolutions 2310, 2311, and 2312 regarding special elections were approved after lawyer Lindsay Ryan explained changes and additions. These resolutions were part of the recently passed referendum to require a special election to replace commissioners who leave office mid-term.
Ryan then reviewed minor changes to the recently discovered town financial resolution that had been in place since 1996. The changes were to update the resolution and remove references to old Maryland code.
In what could be classified as the most engaging discussion of the night, two different proposals were presented for the creation of a financial advisement committee for the town, an idea that was suggested during debate of how the town's millions of dollars for projects could earn more interest in the Maryland Municipal Investment Fund than they were currently earning in Bay Vanguard Bank. The funds were moved to the MMIF.
Tensions in the meeting grew as Commissioner Greer reviewed the first proposal which had been discussed in a town workshop on Thursday, October 14. Greer explained that the town currently has 8 million dollars passing through the town coffers and she had hoped for a more collaborative meeting on the document during the workshop.
Appointed Commissioner Botkin complained that she did not have "fresh copies" on the night of the 14th and couldn't possibly have collaborated using an old copy of the document. Greer responded, "I'm sorry you didn't bring yours that evening."
The differences of the documents were highlighted. Most centered around who would be eligible to be on the advisory committee. Costigan's plan requires that members of the new committee are registered voters in town. Greer's suggested voters and/or property owners and not just registered voters. Town manager Lewis said that there is no restriction in the town chart regarding committee members, it's been an understood "policy" that members of committees are full time residents of Oxford and registered voters.
President of the Commissioners Tom Costigan told attendees that the two documents would be posted on the town's website ASAP so that residents could view them and ask questions. While Costigan and Greer encouraged public participation in the matter, appointed Commissioner Botkin wanted to approve Costigan's plan during the meeting without further citizen input. Both Costigan and Greer said they preferred public input even if that would push the adoption of the committee to December's meeting.
As of the publication of this article, the two documents are still not available. When we sent an email to the Town Office asking when they would be posted, we were told by the Town Manager: "I am attempting to update the website agenda at the moment. The next meeting is on November 14, 2023."
It seems odd that in this day of electronic documents, scanners, etc. that it would be such a chore. We certainly hope they are up before November 14.
The last bit of business during the meeting was the adoption of a new town hiring policy drafted over the summer by a committee of residents. The policy was created after questions regarding the hiring of the current Chief of Police without advertisement and interviews for the position. The policy also attempts to remove nepotism from the hiring process.
Commissioners Costigan and Greer approved the document, while appointed Commissioner Botkin questioned whether the clause requiring applicants to disclose any family or business relationships with current town employees was legal. She referenced that applicants at her business were not required to disclose family relationships or medical information (which was not on the application.) She reminded the audience that Talbot County is in a small area and that the likelihood of people being related was much greater than in large urban areas. Attorney Ryan assured Botkin that the clause only required disclosure and did not prevent people from applying for jobs and that the policy did not mention medical disclosures at all. The disclosure is for transparency, something the citizens of Oxford asked for.
Appointed Commissioner Botkin came to the meeting wearing a headset which made her look and sound like she was running a fast food drive through.
Former Commissioner Jimmy Jaramillo was present at the meeting, the first time since he did not run again for his position.