Helping Untangle the Web: Mayor Fisona Can’t Find Important Papers, We’re Told

Someone Noticed has mentioned a few times that we’re waiting on a town response to a couple of Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests.  We’re still waiting though one milestone or date mentioned in the MPIA manual has past.  As these days continue creeping slowly by and we wait anxiously to put some sunshine on more documents, we’ve started emailing and checking in with the town since we were told we’d have some response from the Mayor by Sept. 15. 

The report we received is that the Mayor can’t find (or no longer has) his emails, reports, and papers on this critical query.  This is an important transaction so if we were trying to guide the town through a logical decisions making process for the taxpayers, we’d make sure we had critical papers and reports with us.  Perhaps that methodology would reduce the conflicting statements about what has or hasn’t been done at town meetings, if they had the documents as references for the entire board.

This material will help us untangle the web the town has weaved as we try try to straighten out the conflicting statements about what has been done thus far.  Someone Noticed  believes this is simply a matter of confusion about what was said or done, but someone still needs to untangle the facts. 

Thus we’ve suggested other ways the mayor might find his lost documents since he no longer has them.  We were never aware of the importance of this document trail until we listened carefully to statements the commissioners made at meetings.  These papers will help clarify what happened and might even help the commissioners untangle what was said or done in order to make data-driven decisions.

Someone Noticed listens carefully.


14 responses to “Helping Untangle the Web: Mayor Fisona Can’t Find Important Papers, We’re Told

  1. Crazy History Teacher

    So the Mayor “lost” his papers? That sounds like one of the excuses my students come up with. Please let the Mayor know that “the dog ate my homework has been used one too many times!

    You know, if Sarah Palin doesn’t work out for John McCain, Joe Fisona could do it! He is a small town Mayor!

  2. On whether Joe could take Sarah Palin’s spot – he’s too qualified. The town she ran was just north of 5,000 people. In that case – I guess Joe would be twice as qualified. Wonder why McCain didn’t ask Joe before? He might have, but I’ll bet Joe didn’t save those emails either. Sure would be nice to have those emails, huh?

  3. What should come out of this – if, indeed, those emails are not retrievable… is an official town policy on how email is handled and archived. It’s one thing that they might go missing once, but I believe it’s a duty of elected officials to ensure a second violation of a state statute does not happen.

    Then again, elected officials are only as accountable as voters demand they be – with their actions at the polls.

  4. As a web designer and host, I find this subject especially interesting. I know firsthand that it is is a common practice for some elected officials to use alternative email addresses rather than go through official government website email channels in order to eliminate a “paper trail”. This has been as true in Chesapeake City as it is in Alaska and the White House. Although I am very much against unwarranted government spying and wiretapping of private citizens, I do believe there must be some regulation of electronic communications where it involves public servants. It is something I have pondered for quite some time. Why is there no broad policy on digital communications in the government? Citizens have a right to accountability from their elected officials. Also, for what it’s worth, ALL emails are retrievable.. just depends how high up in the court system the subpoenas go.

  5. Well said, CSE.

    I wonder if MJ (Mayor Joe) knows that emails are NEVER “really” gone? I think it would be interesting if Mike were to forward his request – the town’s answer – and the demand to the MD Attorney General for further investigation. Would someone actually inquire and get some action?

    I’m confident that MJ would not welcome a phone call from the the MD AG’s office asking “What are you doing up there in Elkton?”

    If Mike needs someone to take it on who isn’t invested in the town, someone else could assist and ask the questions… What do you think, Mike?

  6. Crazy History Teacher

    You got that right Wayne. What ARE they doing up there in Elkton!? Heck, they don’t even know what they’re doing!

  7. CanalSide Editor & Wayne:

    Always happy to see two professionals posting here and reacting to the twists and turns the town has caused this thing to take. Both of you provide perspectives and insights that are helpful to me as I make sure I’m keeping things balanced, but yet pushing ahead professionally on my end.

    On this email matter, the info I had was that these communicaitons didn’t take place on the town computer and town email address, but instead were on the mayor’s personal system and personal address. Thus an initial point was made that these were not accessible under sunshine laws. (Where have I heard that recently!) I’ve read the MPIA manual and that argument doesn’t stand up.

    The town owns the land. He’s on the Elk Landing’s board as the Mayor of the Town. He took the developer and the architect to an Elk Landing board meeting to pitch a proposal for him as the mayor. He has two other people on that board as representatives of the town. I could go on making the connections to the official business of the town, but these make the point.

    Now I’m hearing that he doesn’t retain emails on his personal computer or he doesn’t have them. Could that possible to be tied to the other big problem they’ve been having with the town computer system, which has been making headlines in Elkton for weeks? I don’t think so since the contractor that was not performing properly, according to the town, was working on systems in Elkton’s public buildings.

    I almost can’t wait to see what’s in these reports and emails that have become such a tangled problem to procure. Must be something very interesting. If the mayor doesn’t have them, surely one of his representativers will. Or what about the corporation secretary. What about any of the other parties that have been involved in this widely spread out thing. Surely someone has them.

    It’ll be interesting watching how this one gets resolved. There are other guidelines in the MPIA manual, which I keeping closely at hand to guide me through this process. I’ve also learned to cross check and verify everything just as I did when I was told that Port Deposit sold state public open space land. (Wasn’t true.) So I’ve got a query out to the state archivist since there are state regulations governing record rentention on that end too.

    We’ll see. Thanks Wayne and CanalSide

    I’ll keep you both informed.

    thanks for the support. Never believed I’d be doing something like this, but no one was listening to just basic, obvious facts.

  8. This is the “fun” journalism that gets the juices going. I can thank former public officials for helping to hone my problem solving skills – that’s for sure.

    When I was covering local politics, it made my heart skip a beat when someone told me “no.” I almost had a foot bruised when a former Port Deposit Mayor closed the door on me – or tried to. That was until their town attorney reasoned with her that they couldn’t hold a meeting without being open for the public to attend… But, I digress…

    They may hope you just “go away” when they say “Sorry – wish I could get them for you, but we don’t have the ability/skills/interest in doing so…”

    If you can keep up the pressure and don’t take “sorry” for an answer, maybe that will get them to take a stand and come clean about the whole thing – laying it out for all to inspect.

    Afterall, that is really all you’re looking for – honest, open discussion in front of the public. Instead, some will probably want to keep as much as possible behind closed doors. It’ll be up to the other elected officials on that board who can make a difference in the whole thing. They, too, must insist on full disclosure.

    It must be embarassing. If we apply Occam´s razor – that’s the simplest of explanations. I guess we could consider ulterior motives and conspiracy theories — I just think Joe’s been caught with his proverbial pants down and he’s not an exhibitionist.

  9. Wayne:

    I remember when this young editor showed up in Cecil County, traveling all the way down here from Quarryville, PA., to start Vol 1. No. 1 of the Times of North East and Elkton. It was an extension of the Rising Sun Herald, which was already operating successfully in the northern part of the county. You didn’t open that Herald too did you?

    Am I right when I recall that as happening 15 years ago? That’s a long time ago in the world of journalism, which is nothing like today’s market.

    I also remembers some of the investigative reporting you did for that weekly. Excellent work by small town standards for what was essentially a one-person editoral department. I recall several of them and recall how some of how you went about opening up the sources.

    I’m surprised they don’t do damage control and move on. They were really surprised that anyone noticed since it was all designed to pass quietly by. That’s except for Commissioner Storke, who wasn’t going to let that happen.
    The Whig wouldn’t touch it for months, despite all the matters that were out in the open so it seemed very few people were going to hear until the idea of the blog developed.

  10. Wayne:

    Do you remember an occurrence related to another property that was similar to this situation. It was an old historic building on Main Street. I recall your coverage on that and some of the cartoons it generated, especially the time the town threatened to turn off the water on the building.

    Back then we didn’t have blogs in the Internet so we had to use postcards, when Commissioner Cleek started pushing that one.

  11. Mike,

    There were about 4-5 of us who started the Rising Sun Herald in Oct. 1989. I had been working for Jim Wolf, the publisher, since 1983 or so – and had helped launch 2 other publications in Lanacaster County.

    I started planning for the Herald with the publisher in Sept. 1989 – working out of his Kirkwood, Pa. home for the first few weeks until we opened the office in Rising Sun and brought the others with us.

    I stayed a little more than a year (covering the northwestern portion of the county – Rising Sun, Conowingo, Port Deposit) and then moved to California for a year – where I found myself selling premium wines for an international firm. It’s an interesting story, but not relevant here.)

    I returned to Cecil County around 1991 when Wolf asked me to start the Times of North East & Elkton – and that included Chesapeake City and parts south as well.

    I do recall Commission Cleek’s raid on the Historical Society building and the 99-year lease issue. Didn’t they cut the funding that had been in place for years – coming from the marriage licenses?

    As Jim Wolf always said – There are two words to remember when dealing with elected officials, “Time and Patience…” Sooner or later, they will come back and need you for something… And, it’s been a motto of mine for more than 25 years now.

  12. My point exactly about officials using third party email addresses. It really should not be allowed. Nonetheless, those emails too still exist, whether at Google or wherever they originated. Providers are required by law to keep digital records.
    BTW Mike, I wanted to get in touch with you and can’t seem to find your info. Could you please drop me an email or give me a call on the phone? Thanks.
    Great job on this stuff….this is the BEST use of the internet….bringing out the the truth when in the old days it would simply be swept under the carpet and forgotten.

  13. Wayne:

    We sure wish someone would write that history of emerging media up. You have most of the information on recent decades. How about it?

    I remember very well that first time you came ito the Society as the new editor for the Times of North East and Elkton. It was great to have some reporting that probed things a little. We haven’t had much of that for a while.

    Great work coming out of a small town weekly, it was. I’m sure that professional experience of being able to ask hard questions, dig deeply, analyze the material and write it up, served you well in the corporate world. Newspapers need that today. It would help them sell their product. Remember how people were grabbing up the County Post.

  14. CanalSide:

    Sure will and thanks for the postings and the insights on this you’re providing. I just got off the phone with professional staff at the town to see where we stood on MPIA. The mayor apparently deletes all town business-related emails he gets on his personal computer! And the town doesn’t have a records retention policy, regardless of what COMAR says.

    I’ve been checking with the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) and the government retention guidelines for Maryland on this so I can give an informed response.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s