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Town to hold special meeting to discuss veto of payment of ethics fees

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

Emmitsburg town officials plan to hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m., Monday, to discuss the mayor's veto of a vote granting Commissioners Bill O'Neil and Art Elder payment of attorneys' fees incurred during an ethics investigation into their actions.

O'Neil and Elder plan to contest Mayor James Hoover's veto.

At the July 18 meeting, the two, along with Commissioner Chris Staiger, voted in favor of granting themselves money to cover attorneys' fees.

Hoover voted against the measure, while Commissioner Glenn Blanchard was absent from that meeting. Since then, Hoover sent a letter to the town commissioners stating he was vetoing the vote.

The Emmitsburg Ethics Commission found that Elder and O'Neil had violated Emmitsburg's Municipal Code, according to a signed order of the town on April 29.

O'Neil argued that since the Ethics Commission is not a legal entity, it does not have the right to find anyone guilty of anything. In this case, the ethics commission reviewing O'Neil and Elder's actions had made accusations and reached conclusions that had dragged the two officials' reputations through the mud, he said.

"I think that it was a just decision," O'Neil said of the July 18 vote. "We were denied our right to due process, we were denied the opportunity to call our witnesses who were mentioned in the report, and neither did the ethics committee call them."

If Hoover's veto is overturned Monday by a majority vote, the town will pay $4,370.65 for O'Neil's legal costs to attorney Rosemary McDermott, and pay Elder's lawyer, Leslie Powell, $2,609.15.

Hoover said at the July 18 meeting that "there are some cases where the town should be legally obligated to pay [for officials' legal representation]," but saw a conflict of interest in O'Neil and Elder's case.

"One of them made the motion, and the other one seconded the motion," Hoover said. "...It obviously stands to be a conflict of interest because they are the only ones that stood to gain a financial benefit by a favorable vote."

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