Meeting Decorum For You, Not Her!

    March 26, 2024

    Appointed Commissioner Botkin claims a consultant is lying.

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    Anyone who has participated in volunteer or public organizations knows about Roberts' Rules of Order. It's all that "stuff" about how and when people can start meetings, adjourn meetings, make motions, vote etc.

    Roberts Rules of Order was initially written in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert, an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning he was asked to preside over a public meeting being held in a church in his community and realized that he did not know how. He attempted to run the meeting and it was a disaster. He realized he knew nothing of parliamentary law, so he did research and created one of the best-known guides to running public meetings.

    Roberts' Rules of Order has been updated many times since then. You can find information on the book here:

    Our History - Official Robert's Rules of Order Website (robertsrules.com)

    It was a set of rules to bring decorum and order to meetings.

    While many meetings are run using Robert's Rules of Order, many don't strictly follow the rules provided in that guide. They either use rules from their own town or municipality or State procedures. Maryland does not require the use of Robert’s Rules of Order by default in meetings.

    Appointed Oxford Commissioner Susan Delean Botkin decided to read about meeting processes at the Tuesday, March 19th Commissioner's meeting using a quote the Oxford Town Charter. What she read did not directly come from Robert's Rules of Order. However, suggestions for public comment are covered in Robert's Rules of Order.

    Botkin made it very clear to the citizens of Oxford last Tuesday at the meeting that she wanted order and decorum at town meetings. Seems ironic coming from her.

    Why? She has been rude and dismissive to citizens, consultants and fellow Commissioners in meetings.

    In a February 27 meeting, she insulted a property owning, tax paying citizen during his public comment asking why he was unable to get a report he requested from the town. He said he was raising his daughter in Oxford, prompting Botkin to call him a liar and a part time resident. She used the second description as if that was equivalent to being a leper. In a small town like Oxford, that term is sometimes used as an insult from full time residents, implying that the part timers have no rights. However, part time residents pay the same taxes as full-time residents and are due the same respect. We have rarely seen so much vitriol from a public official towards a citizen in a public meeting setting.

    Was the citizen animated in his comments? Absolutely. Was he rude? No. And, even if the Commissioners thought he was rude, public officials should hold themselves to a higher standard. Clearly not the case here. He wasn't even trying to have a "debate" with them. He was asking for information and wondering why it is so hard to get information from the Oxford Administration.

    The next instance was her interaction with a consultant at a town workshop prior to an open meeting, demanding he face her when talking and then calling him a liar too. She called him a liar because he said he was not trying to get business from the town. I guess if you don't say what Botkin wants, that's her "go to" accusation.

    It was after that workshop that she decided she needed to address public participation and decorum in meetings. She read this from the Town Charter:

    All meeting [meetings] of the Commissioners shall be open to the public, and the rules of the Commissioners shall provide that residents of the Town shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any meeting in regard to any municipal question. xydoc/1 (oxfordmd.net)

    Then she went on to say this: "Public comment is not a debate, it's not a question-and-answer session or discussion. If after public comment a commissioner wishes to clarify a matter they may do so. "

    She stated that comments will be limited to three minutes.

    This practice was not confirmed to have been adopted by the Town Commissioners in a prior open meeting. Neither Commission President Costigan nor Commissioner Greer stated that they had discussed and accepted Botkin's meeting decorum proposal. Maybe they don't have to. However, there is nothing in the Town Charter that imposes the limits stated by Botkin. The State does not require Roberts Rules of Order be used in civic meetings either. In fact, Roberts' Rules of Order suggests but doesn't require this citizen comment format either.

    Oxford Charter rules say, there will be a "reasonable opportunity" for citizens to speak during public comment. They say nothing about interaction with Commissioners and/or staff at meetings nor a time limit. So, why the change? Shouldn't the town Charter determine the format? Shouldn't there have been a discussion among the Commissioners and then a consensus relayed in a statement from the Commissioners through President Tom Costigan?

    As has been made clear in the past year, a majority of our Town Commissioners, unlike prior occupants of those offices, don't like answering questions. If you look over any minutes from 2010 to 2023, you will see plenty of conversations between citizens and commissioners throughout the notes. And, not all of these dialogues seemed particularly friendly. In fact, some of them were downright testy. Past Commissioners didn't seem to mind robust public debate and discussion. They were able to conduct town business and embrace lively input from the citizens of the town.

    Why doesn't a majority of this set of commissioners want to answer questions? Has their lawyer advised them not to, just like she did in the meeting at the Oxford Community Center a little over a year ago? Do they not know the answers to the questions? Are they afraid of the answers? Who knows. Whatever it is, when you cannot clearly and simply answer a citizen's question or concern (outside of legally protected information), you may want to resign.

    The new rule limiting dialogue has clearly been put into place to protect our town officials from having to respond to citizens. While other, larger bodies may routinely implement this practice to save time, a "teeny tiny little town" like Oxford (as Ms. Botkin likes to call it) shouldn't have that much of a problem answering direct questions and having a dialogue with citizens within reasonable time limits. When else are ALL citizens, not just a privileged, selected few, supposed to get that opportunity?

    I understand that sometimes citizens get passionate and emotional in meetings which is their right. If they become threatening, abusive or violent, then they must be cautioned and possibly removed. That was not what happened in either of these cases where Ms. Botkin started hurling insults. In the second case when Ms. Botkin demanded the consultant face her, she was the one being rude to a person who was asked to present to the Commissioners AND the citizens and was merely fulfilling that request. That's not how you treat invited speakers and consultants.

    In my 30 years as a teacher, administrator, and coach in the school system and a National Chairman of a major sports organization, I had never witnessed comments to the public by an elected official anything like those comments by appointed Commissioner Botkin. At the very least, if anyone in an official capacity did display that kind of behavior in public or in private, they would have been required to apologize to the citizen or, in some cases, resign their position. Rightly so. Citizens and taxpayers are their constituents and public officers need to treat them professionally and politely.

    Shouldn't Ms. Botkin apologize?

    I don't put the total blame on this particular appointed official although she should know better having been President of the Talbot County School Board before she resigned her position early to be appointed to the Oxford Town Commissioners. She is merely a place holder in her position on the Commissioners, appointed to fill the spot to promote an agenda until an election could be held later on this Spring. In a recent circulated email from a sworn official of an important Oxford Committee, this was clearly stated; "Susan (Botkin)* was appointed after it was realized that the elected commissioner (Katrina Greer)* might represent a small, effete constituency." *Names added for clarity.

    Interesting. They, whoever appointed Botkin, decided they knew better than a voting majority of citizens and appointed the loser of an election because they didn't like the results or the winner. She is doing exactly what the group who appointed her wants her to do, silence citizens.

    Banana republic anyone?

    You see, the people behind the scenes running our town, like other actors in our state and country, are running scared. Citizens are demanding answers, transparency, and accountability, and the "power brokers" don't like that. We hear it in many different local towns and communities. Whether they are afraid of unethical activities and practices being exposed or are afraid of repercussions from the people who control THEM, public officials simply don't want citizens to know the truth. And, believe me, there is much to be uncovered. Like any scared creature, they fight back in the most virulent way possible to protect the power they have and to keep hidden all of their flaws and mistakes.

    And it just gets worse when they encourage the sending of nasty emails, forced repercussions on citizens, and attempts to destroy the reputation of those asking for clarity and transparency.

    Not only that, but the powerful Oxford elite also encourage other citizens to complain that those asking for ethics in government are the ones who are wrong, who are harmful. We have fellow citizens in our town telling us shut up, leave, or mind our own business. Some of those fellow citizens have legally been sworn into powerful town committees such as the Ethics Committee but find it okay to attempt written intimidation of citizens to make citizens stay quiet. Seems unethical to me, what about you?

    You see, they think they are better than us, that they have the moral high ground in defending the indefensible. They claim to be the victims while the whole time they are victimizing and bullying those who speak up. They even go as far as to demand the citizens stop putting in public information requests because truth costs too much money. Unless THEY want answers. Then PIA's are fine.

    It's a typical authoritarian tactic, claim victimhood in order to shut down free speech and inquiries. It won't work.

    In the long run, we support running town meetings by Robert's Rules of Order and having decorum. But the town should adopt ALL of the rules that apply if they want to adopt rules for citizen comment. This includes modeling courtesy and respect and encourage members of the public to do the same. The rules and courtesy must apply to all citizens, not just the favored few.

    One page guide to Robert's Rules of Order:

    Our town is worth it. Our citizens deserve it.

    Other Stories on This Topic:

    Continued Demands For Transparency Set Tone Of Oxford Meeting - Easton Gazette

    Fear of Transparency: House Of Cards Collapsing In Oxford



    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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    Carol Griggs

    I think Jen your reporting of these meetings clearly shows that you have some kind of bias towards Susan Botkin. I am a full time resident of Oxford and have watched every one of these meetings. With all due respect, if you can’t report these meetings in an objective form, then you should refrain from reporting on them.

    Jan Greenhawk

    Hi Carol, Thanks for your input. First off, my name is Jan, not Jen. I am reporting what I see. Have you not heard Ms. Botkin call people liars in meetings? Have you not heard her insult consultants in the middle of their presentations in meetings? Was she appointed after losing the election? Am I not allowed to report these facts? I'm not a press release writer for the Commissioners and the Town so I will continue to write what I see them do and hear them say. I also label these articles opinion which is not objective. Thanks again, Jan

    Last edited 26 days ago by Jan Greenhawk
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