At the Taneytown candidate forum on Monday, a member of the audience asked the candidates about city expenditures resulting from disputes that have been tied to Councilman Donald Frazier, who is currently running for mayor, and his supporters — a number pegged at about $118,000.
Each of the seven mayoral or city council candidates, with the exception of Frazier, responded by decrying the need to have spent that money.
“During the past four years, the mayor and council have struggled with costly and frivolous lawsuits, promotion of dangerous economic policies, and addressing imaginary violations,” Mayor James McCarron, who is running for re-election, told the crowd. “This cost the city $118,000.”
“The number is not correct,” Frazier responded. “It is propaganda.”
According to an accounting of city expenditures acquired through a public information request and made available to the Carroll County Times, it appears the city of Taneytown has spent $118,642 in legal and other fees associated with Frazier’s time on the council.
But a breakdown of the various items also makes clear that not all of those costs are directly related to Frazier or to activity officially condemned by the rest of the council and the mayor. As Frazier pointed out at the forum, a little over $50,000 was spent on preparing a report analyzing a plan to lower water and sewer rates in the city, something he had campaigned on in 2015.
According to Acting City Manager James A. Wieprecht, Frazier had floated a plan that would have lowered water and sewer rates in the short term, but would’ve hurt the city’s long-term financial health and achieved short-term rate reductions by using tax revenue unrelated to utility funds.
“The city has really tried to maintain the water and sewer as an enterprise fund,” he said, meaning the utilities are funded only through user-related fees.
Frazier’s plan, Wieprecht said, “would have subsidized the system from other sources, from property taxes.”
With lower water and sewer rates a popular idea, the city commissioned a report to examine the financial viability of Frazier’s proposal.
That report, the Davenport report, cost the city $48,226 and $4,500 in associated legal fees, according to accounting documents, and was presented to the council on April 5, 2017.
In a phone interview on Friday, Frazier called those fees an illegal campaign contribution to the opponents of Katherine Adelaide, who was at the time a candidate for District 1 county commissioner, and Rhonda Kritsings, who was a candidate for Taneytown City Council. Adelaide has previously done campaign work for Frazier.
“That’s the only reason they spent that,” Frazier said.
Another $16,620 listed in the accounting was more directly related to Frazier.
In 2015, the mayor and council censured Frazier in connection with his behavior toward a member of the city staff, according to McCarron.
That incident led to mayor and council passing a code of conduct for city officials, which Frazier opposed, and a charter amendment to the city code, according to Wieprecht.
“The referendum was regarding a charter amendment,” he said. “The charter resolution created the ability for elected officials to be removed from office for certain causes, one of which was for a violation of the city’s ethics ordinance.”
Frazier and supporters gathered enough petition signatures to put the proposal before Taneytown voters, as a referendum in a special election, according to Wieprecht, held Nov. 15, 2016. The $16,620 listed in the accounting was for the costs relating to that special election, in which voters approved the ethics changes in the city’s charter.
“I have been on the council since 1985, and we’ve always had disagreements, but we’ve always been able to resolve them in a civil way,” McCarron said of the need to pass the ethics changes. “It’s a shame we had to do this and it’s the only reason we’ve had to.”
On Friday, Frazier said he voted against holding a special election.
Other costs enumerated in the accounting are legal fees associated with a 2016 lawsuit filed by Frazier’s wife, Robin Bartlett Frazier, who alleged the city had intentionally violated open meetings laws. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals in December upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the city, finding that although the city fell short of protocol established in the open meetings law, it did not do so intentionally.
The associated legal fees were $26,243.
Another $9,523 in legal fees and staff salaries were associated with the trial of Adelaide, who in March 2018 was charged with refusal to leave public building or grounds, disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct after she refused to leave an executive — not public — meeting of the mayor and council.
Adelaide said she attended the open meeting because she saw the Frazier name on the agenda for the closed meeting. “Frazier vs. City of Taneytown lawsuit” was listed on the agenda as one of the reasons for the meeting.
Adelaide received probation before judgment on all three misdemeanor counts on Jan. 17, according to electronic court records, but was ordered to pay $384.72 in restitution. The accounting acquired by the Times does indicate a $370 reimbursement to the city connected with the disrupted meeting.
At Monday’s candidate forum, Frazier assailed the city’s legal expenditures related to Adelaide and his spouse’s cases.
“The other portion of that money was to prosecute people who had done nothing wrong,” he said. “It’s time to stop this wasteful, frivolous spending on lawyers fees.”
Councilman Bradley Wantz, who is also running for mayor, disagreed at the forum.
“Why did the city defend itself? Because we were in the right,” he said. “We defended ourselves accordingly and it’s a shame it cost that much money to prove to people we are on the up and up.”
An additional $13,531 in the accounting was related to legal advertisements in newspapers and additional legal fees.
“Those are items related to the Fraziers, including things like reviewing and responding to open meetings violation complaints from the Fraziers and others associated with them, time spent regarding Councilman Frazier’s censures, matters regarding an unpaid bill for a Maryland Municipal League convention he failed to attend, reviewing and advising on materials regarding the City distributed by the Fraziers, various emails and calls specific to items involving the Fraziers, consultation on matters related to public information request regarding the Fraziers, consultation on an unpermitted apartment in the Frazier’s home following charges against Councilman Frazier brought by a former tenant,” Wieprecht wrote in an email.
In a Friday interview, Frazier declined to address whether it was unfair to lay all of the $118,642 in expenses at his feet given that some result from the actions of others, or to discuss the individual merits — or lack thereof — of individual expenses as noted by Wieprecht, instead attacking the notion that the expenditures were necessary.
“Are you familiar with the story of Joshua defeating the Midianites? He would not allow enough soldiers to go into the battle, the Lord would not allow it. He reduced the army to just 300 people, and so when he won, it would glorify the Lord. And that’s what happened here,” Frazier said. “All of the expenditures were done in secret meetings, that’s my quote.”