(9/2/04) At Thurmont's weekly town meeting Tuesday,
resident John Ashbury called for a town staff member's dismissal after that
staff member allegedly opened a letter Ashbury submitted to the town's Ethics
Commission marked "personal and confidential" last week.
The letter requested a review of a town commissioner's
overdue utility bills.
Ashbury said he submitted the letter in a sealed
envelope at the town hall on Aug. 26 and was told a "higher-ranking staff
member" would pass the letter on to the Ethics Commission.
"When so informed, I said loud enough for all in the
room to hear, that that other higher-ranking staff member was not to open that
envelope..." he told the board.
On Friday afternoon Ashbury was contacted by town
attorney N. Lynn Board, of Board and Borden of Frederick, who told him the
confidential letter had been opened and copied to all town commissioners, as
well as to Ethics Commission member John Ford.
Ashbury spoke with strong words but a controlled
demeanor at the meeting and did not name the "higher-ranking staff member" of
whom he was speaking.
"I am appalled that a letter to the Ethics Commission
would be opened and distributed to other town officials. There can be no excuse
for anyone to open and read any correspondence addressed to another in the
matter of official business of the Town of Thurmont..." he said.
Mayor Martin Burns said the unnamed employee contacted
him and told him what he had done. The employee was then instructed to retrieve
all of the letters and put the original back in the envelope, he said.
Town officials told Ashbury that copies were collected,
he said, but Ashbury said he wasn't satisfied.
"Unfortunately we have no way of knowing if all of the
copies were retrieved and destroyed. We have only the word of the town employee
who committed this grievous act that they were," he said to the board. "...I
believe that this employee has breached the trust and integrity of this mayor
and board. It will be difficult for me to ever again accept anything this
employee tells me concerning the town as gospel."
Burns said Wednesday that the board has not yet
discussed what, if anything, it will do about the employee because all of the
board members are not in town. He said any corrective action would be done in
private because it is a personnel matter.
The ethics inquiry Ashbury requested will have to wait
until the commission has three members. Burns and the board must elect another
member to the three-member commission after one member resigned last week.
Burns said he will consider who to appoint to the
vacant seat on the Ethics Commission, but has "a little time" because John
Ford, the unofficial leader of the commission, is out of town for "a couple of
Ashbury has previously told The Gazette that his
request to the commission was regarding an ethics investigation into the matter
of town Commissioner Wayne Hooper's overdue utility bills.
The town's attorney investigated Hooper's water, sewer
and electric bills, which reached a combined total of about $3,000 before they
were paid off in late June. Hooper's utilities were not turned off while other
residents with lesser bills had their electricity turned off during that time.
According to a July 26 investigation report filed by
town attorney N. Lynn Board, Hooper did not ask for favors, but did benefit
from what was considered an administrative snafu.
Ashbury is asking for the town's Ethics Commission to
consider the issue because the town signs the attorney's paycheck. That
presents a conflict of interest, he said in a recent interview.
The request was not a reflection on the town's
attorney, whom he holds in high regard, he said.
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