At least two complaints of an Open Meetings Act violation have been lodged against the Frederick County commissioners for their closed-session vote on a $200,000 grant repayment.
The submissions to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board claim that the decisions should have happened in the open because they relate to public business. Middletown resident Sonja Sperlich wrote one of the complaints, and The Frederick News-Post submitted the other.
County commissioners voted Sept. 5 to send the $200,000 check with a letter to the state in order to facilitate the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living.
Sperlich’s letter references several portions of state law to bolster her argument that commissioners breached the Open Meetings Act.
The law’s intent is to ensure that “except in special and appropriate circumstances, public business be performed in an open and public manner and citizens be allowed to observe the performance, deliberations and decisions of the BOCC,” Sperlich, former chairwoman of the Citizens board of trustees, wrote in her complaint.
John Mathias, county attorney, argues there was no open meetings violation, saying the county took the vote on the grant repayment long before the Sept. 5 closed session.
As part of the June 25 decision to sell Citizens and Montevue, commissioners passed a resolution authorizing the county manager, county staff, and the commissioners president and vice president to “do any and all things, execute all instruments, documents, certificates and otherwise take all actions necessary, proper or expedient in connection with ... the sale of CCRC and MAL facilities.”
The board met in a closed session Sept. 5 because the commissioners were discussing the terms of the county’s grant agreement with the state.
“There was legal advice provided as to the board’s options under that agreement,” Mathias said.
The News-Post complaint asserted that the potential for legal issues doesn’t justify a closed-door vote.
“While a hypothetical political battle between the state and county could lead to a court case, the heart of this issue is the handling of public money. The taxpayers of Frederick County have an expectation that political decisions ... such as the matter in question will be discussed in public, not in secret,” the News-Post complaint states.
Commissioner David Gray, who opposed the grant repayment, has said he believes the vote should have happened in a public meeting.
The open meetings board in mid-August found that commissioners Billy Shreve, Paul Smith and Kirby Delauter violated the Open Meetings Act by participating in a radio show that addressed the potential sale of Citizens and Montevue. The open meetings board has an advisory role and cannot impose penalties or issue orders.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.