“Who’s On First?” Routine at Elkton Meetings

Do you recall the old Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” For about three months as we watched Elkton officials stumble through the process of handling a citizen’s ethics complaint, that old comedy skit kept coming to mind. It was almost as if the routine made famous by the old time comedians had become part of the town meeting.

We got a strong sense of how it was going to unfold after Bob Litzenberg appeared before the town board on April 15 to ask about the status of a determination he’d requested in a March letter. His brief one sentence query stunned the entire town board as they all looked on in puzzlement. None of them, including the Mayor or Commissioner Jablosnki (the subject of the complaint) appeared to know anything about the matter. With confusion reigning, bob brought clarity back to the situation by asking in his own surprised way, “You mean you people don’t know about the complaint I filed?” Someone said no, someone said yes, while other puzzled someones looked on. About this time, the town administrator and attorney started speaking up. Yes we know about the complaint and it’s been handed over to the Ethics Commission, was the way it generally went until Bob tossed another question into the tangle. “Well have they met?” With the professional staff now running with the ball, someone said no, while someone said yes. Someone else decided, they’d better clarify those exchanges.  They met but they didn’t have a quorum, was a remark from the staff side of the room. As for Someone Noticed, we and the public watched all the other official someones toss the questions back and forth or look on with amazement. All we could think of as this went around and around is “Who’s on first?”

When the May meeting rolled around, they had to know Bob would once again ask where the matter stood since officials hadn’t been in touch with him. His follow-up query caused another series of interesting exchanges that demonstrated the confusion around how the town was handling the complaints. Commissioner Jablonski added to the discussion by saying that she too hadn’t been contacted and she didn’t know what the complaint was about. Since the puzzled elected official was still uninformed, Bob clarified the nature of the complaint for her. With those preliminaries out of the way, an exchange with the town attorney got underway. He tried to make the point that the board gives the fire company money so by that reasoning commissioners who are also with the fire company wouldn’t be able to vote on the budget. Bob quickly dismissed that assertion when he asked if any of the volunteer fire company members sitting as town officials were paid by Singerly.  “No” they all said.  The conversation continued along those lines with supporting arguments being made by officials as Bob dismissed them.  This exchange was going nowhere so to bring some clarity back to the stalled situation Bob asked if the commission had met. Well they’ tried to meet but they weren’table to get a quorum was the answer. “Well that’s what you said last month,” he remarked. He added that one member of the Ethics Commission told him that he hadn’t been able to get in contact with other members. “Who’s on first” we wondered.

The next time they met, with a deadline fast approaching for acceptance of a municipal budget, the Mayor and Commissioners were occupied with discussing revenue and expenditures. As they worked their way through the spreadsheets crammed with numbers, the discussion suddenly changed directions when the elected and appointed official starting examining the central legal arguments involved in the citizen’s ethics complaint. The town attorney informed the board that he’d researched the conflict of interest matter and it was his opinion that Commissioner Jablonski could vote on the budget. Commissioner Jablonski thanked him for the opinion. The airing of the subject in public (the Whig was also present) and the announcement of the legal opinion surprised us since we’d been told by the administration that these matters are handed off to the Ethics Commission.  “Who’s on first!”

When the June meeting rolled around Commissioner Jablonski casually remarked that the three-member Ethics Commission had met. When she and the town attorney then started exchanging comments, the attorney added that a letter was sent out to the involved parties. That caused Commissioner Jablosnki asked to ask if she too was going to get a letter informing her of the commissons ruling. She was, he said.

To handle these things in a professional manner in the future, we think the town should develop some procedural rules, starting with really basic mechanisms. When a complaint is received, for example, we’d let the corresponding party know that we’ve at least received the communications and that the matter has been handed over to the Ethics Commission. To that, we’d notify the official involved in the complaint so he or she can present a defense. It is not right for an official to have to hear about such an important matter in public as happened here. To have the details slowly emerge over several months in public and to force a public airing of the matter is not the way you want to approach an ethics commission complaint.

Of course the town is a little backed up on the standardization of its best practices.  It was over a year ago that the Mayor and Commissioners voted to implement a purchasing policy for the town, after an embarrassing situation emerged over computer purchases.  At a recent meeting, Commissioner Storke asked where the implementation of that improvement opportunity stood. Nothing new has been done, it was reported.

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6 responses to ““Who’s On First?” Routine at Elkton Meetings

  1. Dang Joe are you watchin this. I got to come start watchin the show with you. Don,t want to miss the show.

  2. Watchin Joe you might be interested in knowing that Commissioner Jablonski has proposed streaming the town meetings on the Internet. We think that’s a great idea and a good community service. In the 21st century we have to provide more opportunities for citizens to keep up with what local government is doing. We assume that in addition to streaming it real time, they will also archive it so citizens can check in at their convenience.

    We’ll get a blog post up on this shortly, but we thank Commissioner Jablonski for servicing as an advocate for this idea. Citizens really do need to know what the town (or any other local government board) is doing, especially in the case of local governments in Cecil County since we’re an underserved market as it concerns local media. Since the last layoff at the Whig a couple of months ago, we haven’t had a print reporter at the meetings to cover some very important happenings.

    The Whig wasn’t that fast with the coverage before and important issues would go by for months before they’d sometimes touch them (or decide to let them go), but at least there was some coverage of the local meetings. Now, with several important things underway, there is no legacy media coverage.

    Hopefully they do this.

  3. That’s our Joe.

  4. Has anyone heard about who can replace these people in the next election?

    Is that Tuer kid running again? I thought he would get in last time.

    I also heard a couple other names: Wiseman, Crouse, and Walker were considering, but I don’t know if they are going to or not.

  5. Elkton Voter:

    Thanks for stopping by Someone Noticed to post a comment.

    Back when we first started this blog (After Commissioner Jablonski proposed selling some historic land), Tuer was a regular at the town meetings. We haven’t seen him there in what must be months and months (something like that), however.

    As for the others you mentioned, some of them are actively mentioning that they’d like run for office as they make their way around town.

    Former Mayor Crouse served the town as it’s top leader for 20 years, and he has been attending most of the meetings. When he offers comments during the public comments section, they always make sense and you undrestand clearly understand his point.

    The other day they were going around and around over an issue they’ve been trying to settle for over a year concerning, the purchasing process. Over a year ago, the commissioners ordered that a precise process be set up for purchasing (including a purchasing manager), but nothing has been done with they first made that order. Commissioner Storke periodically brings it up, to see where they stand. This last meeting, several of them were discussing the issue with the town administrator and why nothing had been done.

    At the end of that confusing exchange, Jim stood up and made a series of very clear, business-oriented comments about how the matter should be handled. They just made a lot of sense and the remarks were professional.

    Regardless of what you think about whether they should have a purchasing process and purchasing manager, there’s one thing we can’t understand. If the commissioners ordered the process, established that should be it. It shoudl be done and the elected officials can answer to the voters as to whether they approve or disapporve of the decision!

    Feel free to stop by and let us know what you think about things periodically.

  6. Hello everyone! I just heard that someone had mentioned my name here and I figured that I would clear the air. I will not be running in the Elkton 2010 election. I had every intention of running again up until about 6 months ago when I realized that I would be moving out of the state. My house in Elkton is currently for sale, and although it is still my primary residence, I will be moving to Wilmington, DE in the Pike Creek area.

    I had a great time running for office and being involved in Town/County/State politics. I do plan on remaining active in Cecil County and I am the Treasurer for Chris Sutton’s campaign for Sheriff. I will also be helping out with Joe Janusz’s bid for County Commissioner.

    If anyone has any questions or anything, feel free to ask. I can be reached by e-mail at patricktuer@yahoo.com.

    Take care!

    – Patrick

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