Second installment of the "Year in Review" in Oxford, Maryland
There's an old saying that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
The Commissioners and Town Office of Oxford didn't heed that advice as they continued into the first quarter of 2023. They thought that things were quieting down by March. Anything but.
As citizens began researching the sudden and surprise retirement of the town's Chief of Police, they began to discover many disturbing things about their town and how it was being run. People discovered that the Town Manager and a small group of elected officials were turning the quaint little town into their own little kingdom where they ran all the committees, the elections, the commissions, etc. They were making Oxford something it had never been before. The majority of people in town saw it, didn't like it and started speaking up against it.
Those in the small influential circle of "power" didn't give up easily. Their original strategy of "just ignore it and it will go away" failed miserably, so they moved to Plan B and C, and D. Currently, they are far down the list of plans to make the citizens shut up and go away.
March 28, 2023- Town Meeting Minutes
If you read the minutes of this meeting, you will find many examples of deflection and distraction by the Town Commissioners and the Town Office. There is a description of a ridiculous project about what Oxford would be like in 2100, a glossy presentation of the new Chief, and suspicious grandiose praise of a former Commissioner. It all seemed to be planned to keep people's minds off the problems in Oxford being discovered daily.
Despite that, the golden moment in this meeting had nothing to do with that nonsense. The highlight was when resident Dorothy Fenwick stood up and strongly suggested an amendment to the Town Charter that would demand that sudden vacancies by a commissioner prior to the end of their term would be filled by a special election. Up to this time, replacements were always done by appointment.
I don't know if Dorothy is clairvoyant, but she must have had an inkling that this situation was coming. It made sense. Commissioner Jim Jaramillo decided not to run again and people in town knew that Commissioner Brian Wells was selling his house, moving away and resigning his spot on the Commission.
The election for Jaramillo's position would be completed in a few months. If Wells resigned after that and before the passing of an amendment changing the process for replacing him, the puppet masters in town could still appoint their own shill for the spot. Who knew that was exactly what the Commissioners would do?
The letters attached to this set of minutes describe wide mistrust of the town from its citizens. This is when questions about audits of the town books, the hiring process for the new Chief, salaries of some town employees, etc. were clearly articulated with requests for information, many of which are still unanswered.
Things in Oxford were just starting to heat up. An election and an unethical appointment of a commissioner would add to the tension in the town by the late Spring.
At the first town meeting in April, a petition with 215 signatures was given to the town's attorney for review. This petition was for an amendment to the town charter which would require special elections to replace Commissioners who leave office early.
April 11, 2023:
At the next meeting on April 25, 2023, town lawyer Ryan disclosed that the petition was being reviewed for accuracy by the county as they matched signatures to voter rolls. During Commissioner comments is when things got interesting. Commissioner Tom Costigan, in a flash of blatant self-importance, made this statement about having citizens actually vote for replacements on the Commission: (Quote taken directly from the meeting minutes, the highlighting is done for editorial purposes)
Costigan noted that on the town website the following is posted in response to recent questions regarding the submitted Charter Amendment Referendum: In response to recent questions regarding the suggested Charter Amendment to change the procedure in the event of a Commissioner Vacancy, Oxford’s current Commissioner election process not only meets the standard for Maryland municipalities, it provides the most frequent citizen opportunity to elect their officials, with an election held every 12 months for any and all ‘open’ seats. The appointing process to temporarily fill a seat until the very next election provides continuity in government, assures the citizenry of continued operations, and assures all residents that elections are held annually on the same day in June. Unanticipated elections, mid-term with short notice to the public, often catch citizens off guard and do not allow for a fair and transparent process.
The current Oxford Charter reads: Section C5–15. Vacancies. In case of a vacancy on the Commission for any reason, the Commission shall elect some qualified person to fill such vacancy until the next regular election. Any vacancies on the Commission shall be filled by the favorable votes of a majority of the remaining members of the Commission. The results of any such vote shall be recorded in the minutes of the Commission. Costigan encouraged everyone to read the information on the website and to understand what is being proposed, that what we have now is an orderly system that has been tested and works. He feels this change to the Charter has been sold to many residents as being more democratic and that it will lead to a better and more professionally run government, stating that if he believed that, he would support it and would offer a resolution of support to that effect. But he does not believe that and offered, at the public’s convenience, to discuss all the reasons he feels the citizens would not be well served by this charter change, saying that not only does he feel it is a bad idea, in his opinion it is being fostered by a few individuals with their own undisclosed agenda. He recently began outlining the dozen or more problems that could arise with this proposed change, and he would be happy to share his concerns with the citizens as we move forward in this process. After careful consideration he feels
that citizens will see that this is a solution in search of a problem.
As for a solution searching for a problem, it's ironic that he would say that as we'll discuss that idea when we look at all these "grants" solicited, written by, and managed by the Town Manager for the town, whether they were needed (or wanted) or not. This will be in a later installment.
Yes, the Commissioners and Town Administration of Oxford just kept digging the hole in the first four months of 2023, and no amount of silly future projections or slick narratives could hide what they were doing. People were waking up.
The next few months would activate citizens more.
SPECIAL NOTE: Thursday (January 11, 2024) is the first meeting of the New Year. Citizens should remember Commissioner Costigan's comments about the 215 people who signed the petition for the Charter Amendment and how he demeaned them and questioned their agenda as well as all the acts of the Commissioners in 2023. This will be important in light of the current monstrosity on the Oxford Strand.* Originally scheduled for tonight but postponed for weather..