• Emotions Run High At Oxford Meeting; Town Manager Announces Her Retirement

    February 14, 2024

    It started off as a relatively quiet meeting in Oxford, but it didn't stay quiet for long.

    The past year has been a contentious one for the citizens of the town as questions surrounded the sudden retirement of the longtime Chief of Police, hiring practices, financial procedures, and the drastic changing of the town's Strand Shoreline.

    The meeting started with reports from town departments. Maintenance Supervisor Matt Ozman detailed projects and repairs in the town.

    Giving his police report, Interim Chief Chris Phillips listed all the calls and incidents in the town in the past two weeks. He reminded citizens of crosswalk laws for pedestrians, cars, and bicycles. Violation of those laws could cost someone $50 to $80. Phillips stated that his main concern was the safety of the people in town. He also invited everyone to "Coffee with a Cop" at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15 at the Oxford Community Center.

    After the department head reports and the Commissioner's vote to approve town ordinance 2401 regarding the regulation of cannabis businesses in town, Cheryl Lewis, town manager provided a thirty-minute review of the FEMA flood plain ordnance. The town, in order to keep a designation that will lower flood insurance rates for residents, must remove exemptions for building and renovation standards that are counter to FEMA requirements.

    The FEMA regulations require that homeowners must follow the FEMA guidelines for homes in the critical flood plain to meet the standards for new construction as well as remodeling of homes with improvements that comprise over 50% of a home's value even if those improvements are due to damage to the home. FEMA now requires that home foundations must be built to withstand flood waters up to 8 feet deep. This includes electrical infrastructure, duct work, etc.

    The Commissioners will post the information for public comment and will vote on the ordinance at a later date.

    Lewis went over a variety of grants that the town could apply for and recounted current openings for employment in the town. The Planning position that was open when the previous town planner left has been filled but not announced. Interviews with applicants for a Clerk/Treasurer will be completed this week. The Police Chief's position will be posted. Many in town hope that interim Police Chief Chris Phillips will apply and get the job. The former Chief who suddenly stepped down from the position and is now a Lieutenant in the department, Eric Kellner, has been tabbed to do the interviews. This is seen by many as a conflict.

    After explaining that the town will have three people and one current employee running the town, Lewis announced that she will be retiring June 30th. Several in attendance applauded.

    Then the fireworks started. Resident Deborah Pulzone reading a three-page type written letter, stated that she lived in the town and had never seen the division, discord, and allegations against town staff as there had been in the past year. Since January 1 of 2023, the writer claimed that thirty public information act requests had been submitted to the town alleging fiduciary misappropriation and other ethical issues. She said the PIA's caused a lowering in the morale of town employees and the requests were being used as a "weapon" against town staff. She also complained that answering the PIA's was costing the town and its citizens quite a bit of money. She detailed the costs by hour. She then called those who filed the requests disgruntled malcontents and people with ill intent against the town staff. She said they were "disrespectful."

    This caused an immediate response from Jan Greenhawk* who stated that the citizens of the town had been denied answers to many questions in the past year. They want transparency and accountability from their Commissioners and Town Staff and the town had not been forthcoming on some issues. She said that these citizens had nothing against any of the town employees and did not make allegations but asked questions which is their right.* She stated that citizens wanted the Commissioners to run the town, not one employee and a small circle of influential residents. She also stated that public information requests are the right of the citizens/taxpayers when they ask questions and don't get answers. Here is an explanation:

    The Public Information Act (PIA) is a legal framework that allows citizens to inspect or copy government records. Here are the key points about the PIA:

    1. Purpose: The PIA provides a mechanism for citizens to access information maintained by governmental bodies. It ensures transparency and accountability by allowing people to obtain a more complete understanding of how their government works12.
    2. Access to Records: Under the PIA, citizens have the right to request access to government records. Governmental bodies are generally required to release information in response to such requests.
    3. Exceptions: However, there are specific instances where governmental bodies may withhold certain records from the public. These exceptions are outlined in the PIA.
    4. Review Process: If a governmental body decides to withhold information, both the request and the information must be reviewed by the Open Records Division (ORD). The ORD determines whether the information can be withheld or must be released.
    5. Requestor Rights: As a requestor, you have the right to be treated equally, receive prompt responses, and seek assistance from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) if the governmental body fails to comply with the PIA.
    6. Prompt Release: Governmental bodies must produce public information promptly. If there’s a delay, they must notify you. If information is withheld, the OAG may be involved in the process.

    This sparked comments from other citizens who commented on recent flooding and the lack of information and response from the town regarding the situation of portions of the town who repeatedly flood. They noted that the Strand Project has been the focus of attention of the town above areas of the town with severe problems.

    One resident, Scott Rensberger, mentioned that he had released this video six days ago to get help from the town for his neighborhood.

    How Oxford, Maryland is Destroying a Neighborhood. (youtube.com)

    One gentleman said that he had learned quite a bit from the town office about flooding while another resident said she was never told about the flooding on the property that she purchased and she was now suffering the consequences.

    At the very least, these comments may indicate that better communication is needed between the Commissioners, the Town Office, and residents.

    Questions were raised about if the town profited off of grant funds or if Oxford got kickbacks from contractors. Lewis explained that when town staff was used on a grant, the town would issue an invoice to the grantor who would then cut a check to the town. An obviously frustrated Costigan curtly commented "no" to the question about contractors.

    At this point, Lewis, whose salary is approximately $180,000 a year, said that she "gives her time" above and beyond what is required managing grants and town business.

    The President of the Commissioners closed public comment and Commissioners went to closed session.

    Here is the recorded livestream of the meeting:

    Stream Video - Town Hall Streams

    SIDE NOTES: Several questions were raised about how a citizen got a list of the names, addresses etc. of people who did public information act requests and how she knew the exact hourly rate for employees and the town lawyer to deal with the requests. Did SHE do a PIA? Or was she given the information from inside sources? If she did a PIA, how much did it cost her?

    *Jan is the writer/editor of this story.


    They are starting to get the stories right:

    Oxford votes on two items at Commissioners meeting - Star Democrat (newsmemory.com)

    Just when you thought they were getting the stories right, they do this fluff piece.

    Oxford town manager to retire at end of June - Star Democrat (newsmemory.com)



    Jan Greenhawk

    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.
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    Margaret Fisher

    I feel I was at that meeting! Thanks for keeping us informed.

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