After two days of testimony, including from plaintiff Robin Bartlett Frazier, a judge ruled that the Taneytown City Council and mayor did not willfully violate the Maryland Open Meetings Act when it held a closed meeting on June 22, 2016.
Frazier played two roles during the two-day trial, questioning witnesses as her own representative, although she does not have a law degree, then taking the stand, where she asked herself questions and answered them as part of the testimony.
Frazier was one of several witnesses the former county commissioner called to testify about the June 22, 2016, meeting. According to testimony from council members, the mayor and city staff, the meeting was held to discuss the threat of litigation from Frazier's husband, Donald Frazier, who is a member of the Taneytown council.
Frazier testified that she, as well as Katherine Adelaide, who testified Monday, heard about the closed meeting and decided to attend the open meeting during which the council would vote to go into a closed session. But when she arrived at City Hall, she was turned away, Frazier said.
In his ruling, visiting Judge Lawrence Daniels said that the city officials did violate the state's Open Meetings Act when they failed to give proper notice of the open meeting during which they voted to go into closed session and to list the mayor as an attendee of the closed meeting. But none of the acts were willful, Daniels said.
The definition of willful was up for debate during the trial. Frazier defined it as knowing something and not doing it, while Kevin Karpinski, who represented the Taneytown council and mayor, defined willful as having intent to disregard the rules, saying a willful act must be done purposefully.
Karpinski said after the case that he's pleased the court found in favor of the city.
"The court found — as we knew all along — that there were no willful violations of the Open Meetings Act," he said.
Daniels told Frazier that she put on a good case but added that he was waiting for her to pull out a smoking gun, which she never did.
After the hearing, Frazier said she was happy the judge found that the council had technical violations, including, which she noted as most important, that the city did not give enough notice of the open meeting.
She said she is not sure if she is going to appeal.
Frazier referenced her experience as a county commissioner multiple times during the trial, saying that she had experience with the Open Meetings Act due to her experience as an elected official.
According to a 2012 article in the Times, the Board of County Commissioners received numerous Open Meetings Act complaints — some which were upheld by the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board — while Frazier served as commissioner. Frazier was part of a board elected in 2010 that had amassed 10 complaints by 2012. She had also been a commissioner on previous boards that had received complaints.
Instead of filing a lawsuit, Frazier had the option of going through the compliance board. She testified she chose the route of a lawsuit because she wanted to leave her options open and there was a time limit on filing a suit.
In a prepared statement, Taneytown City Manager Henry Heine said the case should have been handled through the compliance board.
"Rather than directly, quickly, and efficiently dealing with an issue, over a year of legal activity has done nothing except to distract energy from where it should be directed — the city," Heine wrote. (The word "nothing" was bolded in the prepared statement.)
Heine said the trial would likely cost the city around $5,000, but that did not include the cost of Tuesday's second trial day. Karpinski is not the city's usual attorney. He was hired to handle this case because the attorney on retainer, Jay Gullo, was a witness in the case.
Heine, in his prepared statement, said the legal proceedings and the process leading up to them "created an atmosphere of theater which has in turn disparaged the city's image and harmed citizens."