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Thurmont vote was end of issue, Commissioner Muth says

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(2/26) Towns rarely see the kind of controversy that swept through Thurmont this month, according to an expert on municipal governments.

Thurmont commissioners, led by Commissioner Glen D. Muth, asked Thurmont Mayor Martin A. Burns to resign on Feb. 16, and then voted 3-2 that the board "no longer has confidence in your ability to lead us," in Muth's words.

"That's quite rare," said Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League. "Years can go by without that happening anywhere in the state."

The Maryland Municipal League is an Annapolis nonprofit that supports city and town governments.

The vote of no confidence came one week after Burns publicly suggested that fellow commissioners leaked a town document, and said he'd pay for polygraph tests for commissioners willing to deny the claim.

Peck, who said he is familiar with the most recent Thurmont story, said that a vote of no confidence, or a request for a sitting official to resign, is usually "not backed up by any force of law."

"Whatever impact it has is largely based on how the public perceives the issues," Peck said. "There are very few municipalities [that] provide within their municipal charter for the broad concept of vote of no confidence."

Thurmont has an election scheduled for October. The terms of Burns and Commissioners Ronald A. Terpko and Wayne A. Hooper expire in October. After announcing in June that he had no plans to run for a third term as mayor, Burns reversed course in December and announced he planned to run.

Some towns or cities have provisions for elected officials to be removed for "certain specified reasons," Peck said.

In Thurmont's case, those reasons would be the commission of a felony or moving out of town limits.

About 20 percent to 25 percent of towns have recall provisions, Peck said, which empower the voting public to remove elected officials through special elections.

Thurmont has such a provision in its town charter. In fact, the town of 6,000 dealt with the specter of a recall for 10 months in 2002 and 2003.

Hooper has defended Burns from criticism of Burns' governing style before

Feb. 9 was not the first town meeting that resulted in public condemnation of Burns' governing style.

In November 2002, Thurmont commissioners were discussing who they thought should take charge of a Thurmont Police Department that was suffering a crisis of leadership.

Burns, The Gazette reported, had an "impassioned outburst" on Nov. 12, 2002, when the nomination of his preferred candidate, then-Frederick County Sheriff's Office Capt. Gregory Eyler [now the chief of the Thurmont Police Department] was blocked by the board.

Burns apologized on Nov. 19. But by then, Thurmont resident Jacque Burrier had already started a movement to yank Burns from office via a town-wide recall vote.

"My kids have to see this," Burrier told The Gazette then. "My kids are fighting all the time, but they are kids. I can't expect them to get along when they don't see the leaders get along."

The movement to remove Burns from office became known as Concerned Citizens for a Better Thurmont, and counted Bill Blakeslee, now the town's chief administrative officer, among its chief proponents.

The group added Commissioner Terpko to its target list. The group never revealed how many signatures it had gathered, and by the time the signatures were due in order to enact the recall election, Blakeslee had become a viable candidate for commissioner.

In September 2003, Hooper announced that he had convinced the group to drop its recall drive.

Speaking after that announcement, Burns said, "We all have good ideas and beliefs, but we must choose our words carefully, especially if you are the mayor."

Blakeslee took office in October 2003, along with Muth, who opposed the recall effort as a commissioner candidate and member of the Charter Review Committee.

Muth this week said he has no knowledge of anyone wishing to repeat that exercise, and said he could not compare the circumstances or tone of public discourse leading up to the 2002 recall effort to that prevailing before the vote of no confidence. "I can barely remember what I had for breakfast," he said.

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