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 Town investigates commissioner's utility debt

Chris Patterson

Thurmont officials are investigating delinquent utility bills owed until recently by town Commissioner Wayne Hooper.

Attorney Debra Borden, of Board and Borden in Frederick, the firm that represents the town, said her partner N. Lynn Board is conducting the investigation. Board was unavailable for comment.

Records received by The Gazette under a Freedom of Information Act request show that Hooper owed the town $692.96 for water and sewer as of April. A payment on Hooper's account of $729.27 was received on June 22, according to the records.

Borden said she could not release the exact amount of the electricity debt because of a provision in the Public Utilities Act that may prohibit her from releasing information on debts for electric utilities.

About 15 other water and sewer accounts exceeded Hooper's past-due amount. Seven accounts owed more than $1,000 and four of them owed more than $2,000; the highest was $2,847.

According to town clerk Rick May, as of Wednesday, the current past-due total owed to the town for water and sewer was $37,954.50.

Mayor Martin Burns said Wednesday that the investigation was requested by the town's board to determine if there were any improprieties in the town's handling of Hooper's debt because he is a town commissioner. The utilities were not cut off.

"There has been no allegation of any wrongdoing of Commissioner Hooper that prompted this investigation. This is strictly to have the public trust that nothing was done differently with him than with anyone else," Burns said.

He said he is aware of one resident whose power was shut off, but he did not know under what circumstance that occurred. "I don't know what the policy is for shutting it off," he said.

Burns said the town buys electricity wholesale and resells it to town residents and businesses.

Hooper said Monday that he fell behind with his utility bills because his wife, Jill, has been recovering from cancer and has had to undergo chemotherapy, which led to "skyrocketing medical bills" for the family.

Hooper said he does not think he needs to respond to any concerns about owing high utility bills while sitting on the town's board and acting as liaison to the electric utility.

"The report [to the board] came back OK, so I don't see where there's anything to pursue," he said. "I don't think there's a problem. The bill's paid. The lawyer did the investigation and nothing showed up."

Borden said Wednesday afternoon that the investigation is not complete and is still in process.

Though the results are not yet available, Borden said it is at least clear that the town has no policy on handling delinquent utility debts, she said.

"They don't have a policy, no common practice and nothing in writing," Borden said. "Obviously that's one of the things we are going to do right away. We are going to get that fixed."

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