• Continued Demands For Transparency Set Tone Of Oxford Meeting

    February 29, 2024
    1 Comment

    "THIS IS THE MOST UNTRANSPARENT TOWN I'VE EVER SEEN." - Oxford Resident Scott Rensberger

    Oxford Commissioners Delean Botkin and Costigan Prior to February 27th Meeting

    It's been a little over a year since citizens crowded the Oxford Community Center and demanded more transparency and accountability from the Town Commissioners and Town Office regarding the sudden retirement of the Police Chief as well as other issues. It's clear that the town has not done enough to address those demands.

    When everyone walked into the Oxford Town Meeting on Tuesday, February 27, 2024, they probably didn't expect what happened that night. But what happened will remain in citizens' memories for a very long time. It could impact how the town operates in the future.

    The meeting started with the usual business and progressed to department reports from Maintenance Supervisor Matt Ozman and Interim Police Chief Phillips. There was new business about an ordinance that would affect building codes and CRS ratings. There was information about grants available, the town budget, an RFP for software, new personnel hiring, and announcements about upcoming events.

    After the business of the meeting was almost over, Commissioner Katrina Greer stated that the town needed to investigate the best way to manage Town Manager Cheryl Lewis's departure on July 1 and the best way search for a new town manager.

    Greer offered options, stating that the town needed to be careful in replacing Lewis who has been in place for twelve years. She offered the possibility of using the Maryland Municipal League as a resource, getting community involvement, and even conducting a nationwide search since the town manages some thirty million dollars of grants. As Greer said, this could be the most important decision the Commissioners can make and one that could impact the town for years.

    Appointed Commissioner Susan Delean Botkin said that conducting a nationwide search would cost the town $50,000. A citizen in the audience yelled out, "that's horses***."A short argument ensued until Tom Costigan halted the interchange, asked people to be respectful, and agreed to the idea of having a community workshop for citizens and commissioners to determine the needs and considerations when making this hire.

    That's when a resident of the town, Scott Rensberger, asked to speak publicly. Rensberger is an internationally renowned investigative reporter and photographer and created this video about flooding in Oxford:

    https://youtu.be/_sv4szGoSlM

    Scott strode to the front of the room with a clear purpose and stated his name and address.

    " I wasn't going to say anything today but I got all riled up. I love this town," he started. He then reminded President of the Commissioners Tom Costigan that Costigan had yelled at him at the last meeting when he asked a question. He asked that Costigan be more respectful this time. He also thanked the Commissioners for their time, acknowledging the difficulty of their jobs.

    Rensberger has a lengthy resume as an award-winning investigative reporter and photojournalist. You can see his work and accolades here:

    Scott Rensberger

    This is the streaming video of the meeting.

    Stream Video - Town Hall Streams (Scott can be found at 1:07:08 on the video)

    "I'm trying to figure out this town," he said. " I've been writing the Commissioners and the Town Manager with fairly simple questions. They don't respond to me. I don't know how to get answers and I wish someone would tell me how." He described his experiences visiting and living all over the world and the United States. "This town is the most non-transparent town I've ever seen. I can't figure it out. It's 600 people, it's so easy."

    "When I Google St. Michaels, Dewey Beach, Rock Hall, all these places, their websites are so open." Rensberger stated. Then he went on to suggest that people Google Rock Hall to see what he is talking about. He explained that the Rock Hall website posts a great deal of information including town expenditures as small as the money spent on gas by the town's police cruiser.

    "I turn on this one (Oxford's website) and I'm going to sit there all night long trying to figure out anything," he marveled. "It shouldn't be this hard."

    Rensberger stated that he asked for the name of the engineer who's coming to his property to study what is going on with the flooding on his property and he wasn't given that name. He also said he asked for the 2016 study on the town flooding but he can't get it. (Writer's note; we could never find or get it either.) He described a drainage pipe under his property that hasn't been cleaned for forty years.

    In a 2013 report on flooding in Oxford, Rensberger said that a study in the report pointed out that his neighborhood was a "poor Black community", and that the town was basically "allowing water to run down there."

    He paused briefly.

    Reading notes from his phone, Rensberger asked the audience if they had ever heard of Silver Spring, Maryland, a community 130 times larger than Oxford. He pointed out that their Town Manager is paid $50,000 less than Oxford Town Manager Lewis. The same applies to Old Town Alexandria which is 300 times larger. "Our Town Manager is by far the highest paid Town Manager in Maryland," he explained.

    At this point, appointed Commissioner Susan Delean Botkin loudly interrupted Rensberger. " Sir, you are out of line. I have responded to you and I have the emails. I see your stuff and it says you live here and you're raising your daughter here. You're not. You're a part timer." Botkin accused Rensberger of being a liar.*

    Rensberger answered that he is not lying and had asked for the 2016 Study and hadn't gotten it. Botkin held it up, waved it, and said, "It's available and it's your problem if you don't have it."

    As the two continued back and forth, Commissioner Costigan broke in, silenced Botkin, and told Rensberger to continue. He did, detailing that the current Maintenance Supervisor, who Rensberger said is a good person, is the nephew of Cheryl Lewis's long time "partner." He mentioned that two maintenance employees are currently tenants on Lewis's significant other's property. He discussed the fact that Lewis's daughter, the former town planner made $86,000 a year. In comparison, the newest hire for that position, a woman with years of experience, was hired as a planner for $50,000 to $70,000 a year.

    Rensberger also pointed out that in the past few years the town had two employees, Maintenance Supervisor Scott Delude and Chief of Police Pat Maxwell, who had a combined 48 years of experience, who had vanished as employees with no valid explanation.

    As he finished, Rensberger quietly returned to his seat. Commissioner Costigan said he would get Rensberger the name of the engineer.

    There were additional public comments. One resident applauded Commissioner Greer's suggestion that the town conduct an extensive, careful search for a new Town Manager. Another questioned a recent building permit and if it would be affected by new FEMA regulations.

    The meeting was then adjourned as the Commissioners again went to a closed meeting for "legal and personnel matters."

    Writer's Notes: The Friday edition of the STAR DEMOCRAT included a story about this meeting and the town manager search, but, as is typical of the publication, the reporter failed to report on Rensberger's comments. This is not unusual, because it seems the reporter, Maggie Trovato, is more interested in describing the viewpoints of the town government and not the views or statements of the citizens. One wonders if she has been engaged to be a press release writer for the town. Or maybe the STAR DEMOCRAT is afraid that Rensberger, a renowned investigative reporter, is competition for them.

    Oxford Commissioners discuss town manager search - Star Democrat (newsmemory.com

    Additional Comment: * This is the second time in two meetings that appointed Commissioner Botkin has aggressively addressed citizens during and after meetings and made demeaning comments implying that those citizens did not have the right to be heard or have the same level of service from the town. The previous incident was when she told me that I had a bad attitude and that is why I don't get information from the town. Her comment to Mr. Rensberger implied that "part time" residents who are property owners do NOT deserve the same consideration of the town. She also called him a liar. Is this proper behavior for a public official?

    Perhaps Botkin should be reminded that there is NOTHING in the Town Charter or laws that allows town employees, administration, or elected officials to deny or discriminate against residents, full or part time, or refuse to give them the same respect and service they give everyone. Perhaps this is the reason Ms. Botkin did NOT get elected to office and had to be appointed.

    More Info:

    A Reminder about Oxford's propensity to go to CLOSED MEETINGS:

    The Tyranny Of The Closed Public Meeting - Easton Gazette

    It seems it is time for government and administration in Oxford that believes in transparency, fairness and accountability. This is something that could be said about MANY levels of government.

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    Author

    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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    Robyn Marshall

    This the most absurd thing I have heard of…To think this is going on in one our very small towns in Talbot county…Looks like you need a cleaning of your town officers…NOW!

    Last edited 1 month ago by Robyn Marshall
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