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New board having problems communicating

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(12/6) The new Thurmont Board of Commissioners is experiencing some “growing pains” as one official described it that has led to some tension among the members as this new board tries to find a way to work together.

Mayor Martin Burns recently held a meeting with town government branch heads and town staff to introduce Bill Blakeslee as the chief administrative officer and explain how the town’s “chain of command” should now work. Following those meetings, Commissioner Glenn Muth approached the branch heads to ask about what happened in the meetings and they wouldn’t talk to him about.

Muth wrote in an e-mail The Dispatch obtained through the freedom of information request that, “It is just not right that Dept. Heads have been told not to talk to us. I predict that will change Tuesday evening.”

Burn wrote back, in part, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I have not instructed the department Heads not to talk to you, ever. That would be pretty stupid.”

Burns also took Muth’s comment to mean that his intent was to change the mayor’s powers in the town charter that was approved in February, which the commissioners are considering.

“We took 5 years with a charter code review committee, we used a model charter from the University of Maryland’s Institute for Governmental services, we dissected every ounce of our old charter, held many public meetings and we voted to approve it. It was not done in a vacuum, and everything was up front, in public. Is it everything to everyone? No, and it will never be. We all gave a little, and took a little, to make a great new document,” Burns wrote.

He then asked Muth to show him, where he had either abused his power under the new charter or the charter hadn’t worked in the nine months it had been active.
Burns wrote another e-mail to Blakeslee to have him issue a memo to town employees stating that no information should be withheld from a commissioner.

Burns said during the Nov. 20 town meeting if anyone had taken anything he said during the staff meeting as an order to not speak to the commissioners, it was “gross mischaracterization of his comments.”

Blakeslee also told the commissioners that the department heads had told him that they hadn’t been told they couldn’t talk with the commissioners.

Muth used the lack of communication as a reason to have commissioner liaisons to all the town departments, which was a duty that Blakeslee had been assigned.

“For me personally, I’d like to have a department to be closer to it and learn more about it,” Muth said.

Burns pointed out that any commissioner could speak with any town employee about anything. They had that right even if they weren’t the liaison. However, “I believe historically the commissioners have been the bosses of department heads in the past,” Burns said.

Commissioner Ron Terpko said it wasn’t a matter of taking away duties from the chief administrative officer. “I like that personal interaction and I think that’s gone by the wayside,” Terpko said.

The commissioners eventually agreed that Blakeslee should continue to serve as the liaison to town departments but that commissioners, as always, had to right to speak with and get information from town employees.

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