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Commissioner Terpko to dismiss lawsuit against the town

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

Commissioner Ron Terpko said Wednesday that he'll likely sign papers today to dismiss his declaratory judgment lawsuit against the town. Mr. Terpko's decision came after the town received a new legal interpretation that sided with him in three of the matters he had questioned. Rosemary McDermott, Mr. Terpko’s attorney, said the dismissal could be filed with the Frederick County Circuit Court as early as today. Debra S. Borden, a partner at Board & Borden LLC, the law firm recently hired to represent the town, authored the opinion that ended the legal action. Mayor Martin Burns read Ms. Borden’s letter at Tuesday night’s board of commissioners meeting.

Following the meeting, Mr. Terpko said he was glad the issues are resolved and that the case didn’t have to be decided in court. He thanked his current board colleagues for listening to the issues and agreeing to follow the new opinion.

³We had a really good discussion about it," the commissioner said, "and they listened to the legal opinion and agreed this is how we should operate." Mr. Terpko said the board also agreed that the town needed to establish policies and procedures to prevent such issues from arising again.

Ms. Borden wrote that commissioners should be allowed to review employee personnel files, contact the Maryland Municipal League (MML) for advice, and view minutes from executive sessions even if they weren’t at the meeting. Though access to personnel files is limited to an employee’s supervisor, Ms. Borden determined that the board and mayor act as the "ultimate supervisor" because they hire and fire employees. Therefore, the board must have access to personnel files, but she recommended that it develop procedures for requesting and reviewing the information.

The attorney also wrote that commissioners and the mayor should have free access to the MML, just like all Maryland citizens do, but suggested that no one should claim to speak for the town without board approval. Finally, Ms. Borden decided that a commissioner doesn’t have to be physically present at an executive session to have access to the information discussed in the meeting. "Depriving board members of the opportunity to review executive-session minutes," she wrote, "robs duly elected officials of the information they need to make decisions."

The opinions reversed decisions made by Clifford Bridgford, the former town attorney, and backed by Commissioners Wayne Hooper, Eddie Hobbs and Kenneth Oland, who formed a majority of the board. Mr. Bridgford had advised the town that only immediate supervisors could see personnel files, that the board could restrict MML-information access to authorized representatives only, and that commissioners only had access to the minutes of executive sessions they attended.

Ms. Borden’s opinion and the board’s acceptance of it resolved the final three issues Mr. Terpko wanted clarified. Two other requests have been settled by the board.

Mr. Terpko wanted to see a videotape made in the office of Neil Bechtol, the town’s former police chief. Ms. McDermott said arrangements have been made for the commissioner to view the tape.

He also wanted information he claimed he was entitled to as the town’s liaison to its police commission. He remains in that position and has been allowed access to the information in question.

Mr. Terpko said the results provided affirmation that he was correct when he filed the suit against the town he serves. He said he was pleased that two other candidates the board interviewed about providing legal services offered similar interpretations of the commissioners’ and mayor’s powers.

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