ACLU Files 2nd Open Meeting Complaint Against Pocomoke

August 20, 2015

 

Contact: Meredith Curtis, curtis@aclu-md.org, 443-310-9946

 

POCOMOKE CITY, MD - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has filed a second complaint in a month against Pocomoke City officials for violations of the Maryland Open Meetings Act (MOMA). The latest complaint concerns unannounced, closed meetings held by Town Officials in late June,  during which the decision was made to fire Pocomoke's first African American Police Chief, Kelvin Sewell. The complaint was filed with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board on behalf of Stephen Janis, a reporter for The Real News Network, a Baltimore-based non-profit news organization.

 

"How can Pocomoke residents not be concerned to learn that Town officials called secret meetings and pressured the Town's only African American elected official to fire the community's well-liked Police Chief? said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "It violates state law when governments make important decisions behind closed doors without notice or explanation to the public and the press. Between barring media from public meetings and holding secret discussions, Pocomoke officials have a lot to answer for."

 

As with the ACLU's first complaint, which pertained to the media being barred from a Pocomoke Council meeting on July 13, this complaint again relates to Pocomoke City's controversial firing of Sewell. At the time of the firing, no explanation was given for the town's action, and many in the community - both black and white - were angry and upset.  Despite extensive media attention and community demands for information in the weeks following Chief Sewell's firing, Pocomoke officials have remained silent about the process and basis upon which they arrived at their decision to terminate the chief. 

 

However, Pocomoke City Councilwoman Diane Downing, the Town's only African American elected official, recently disclosed to the Real News Network details about two secret meetings held in late June by Pocomoke City Mayor Bruce Morrison, the City Council, and City Attorney, at which a majority of Council members - over Downing's vigorous dissent -- voted to fire Sewell. While a municipal government's legislative body is allowed to consider personnel matters such as employee discipline in closed session, it must first notify the public and explain the reason for the closed session, take a public vote on closure, and later provide minutes from the meeting.   

 

The failure to meet these requirements can result in voiding of any action taken during the secret meeting.  The ACLU asserts that the Town's violation of the Open Meetings Act here justifies voiding of Chief Sewell's firing.

 

Go to the ACLU of Maryland website to read letters to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board and Pocomoke City officials.