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Taneytown council votes to censure member Frazier

Taneytown council votes to censure member Frazier
Donald Frazier (Courtesy photo)

The Taneytown City Council voted 4-0 to censure Councilman Donald Frazier on Monday for acts of misconduct and violations of Taneytown's Code of Conduct.

The city's charter indicates that "any elected official, after having been censured by an act of the mayor and council, may be petitioned for recall and removed from office for any reason by the qualified voters of the City of Taneytown."

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The motion comes after Frazier posted photographs showing a letter dated March 13 from Taneytown City Attorney Jay Gullo marked "Attorney/Client Privilege, Attorney Work Project" on the Tri-District Republican Club of North Carroll County's Facebook page. Frazier is the organization's president. The letter contained legal advice provided to Frazier in his capacity as a councilman and was in response to a written inquiry he made and addressed to Gullo on Feb. 14.

According to the resolution, "such action was not approved or authorized by the City Council of the City of Taneytown. By taking such action [Frazier] has violated the attorney/client privilege enjoined by the City of Taneytown as the waiver of the attorney/client privilege can only be made by a majority vote of the City Council of the City of Taneytown."

"This is political mudslinging," Frazier said in a phone interview. "I tried to describe to the public how the majority can oppress a minority point of view. I want the public to notice that Mr. Gullo stamps all council correspondence with an attorney/client privilege. That means that no one can see what he writes to council unless the majority of the council votes to release it. They do everything in secret in Taneytown. No one can see any of it. It's a bad state of affairs if no one can see what we're paying for in legal advice."

Frazier noted that he took down the Facebook post and apologized to the council for posting it.

The resolution defines censure as the term used for the formal condemnation by the elected body of one of its members and serves as a reprimand with the purpose of reforming the individual to prevent further misconduct and [serve] notice that the individual's peers find such conduct inappropriate and against the best interests of the City of Taneytown. The council voted 4-0 in favor of the motion. Frazier was not included in the vote.

The resolution said "unauthorized disclosure of confidential communications exchanged with the City Attorney which are subject to the attorney/client privilege harm the City by diminishing the City's ability to communicate fully and frankly with the City Attorney and in many situations could lead to unwarranted litigation exposure and damage awards against the City. The Mayor and City Council had been specifically made aware of the issue of disclosure of attorney/client privileged information and confidential communication in a memorandum to them dated December 29, 2015."

Frazier was censured for "his intentional disregard of the Code of Conduct of the City of Taneytown and his unauthorized disclosure of confidential information subject to the City's attorney-client privilege. Such act shows disregard for his fiduciary duties as a Councilman and his contempt and lack of respect for his fellow elected officials by failing to operate in a cooperative process as member of the City Council of the City of Taneytown to further own his personal agenda. We further believe that by engaging in such misconduct Councilman Donald Frazier has violated his oath of office and breached his duty as an officer of the City of Taneytown."

In a telephone interview, Gullo said the City Council as a whole makes a determination on whether attorney-client privilege can be waived.

"It hampers the ability for the City Council to get legal advice. If I meet with them all together, it's a closed session. But if I write them a memorandum and it goes beyond the city, it creates a legal liability," Gullo explained. "I hope everyone, including Councilman Frazier, has a clear understanding of this and learns their lesson."

According to the Maryland attorney general's Public Information Officer Raquel Coombs, Section 4-301(a)(1) of the Public Information Act exempts from disclosure records that, "by law ... are privileged or confidential."

"Records that fall within the common law attorney-client privilege are thus exempt from disclosure under the PIA," Coombs emailed. "So, if the attorneys are the City Council's attorneys, yes, their communications, if covered by attorney-client privilege, would be exempt from disclosure under the PIA."

This is the second time Frazier has been censured since he was elected to the council in May 2015. In December 2015, Frazier was censured for conduct, harassment of city employees and lack of decorum prior to the passage of the city's Code of Conduct in June 2016.

"This is the second time I've been harassed with a groundless censure," Frazier said.

In an email, Councilman Bradley Wantz wrote "this second censure was necessary in order to make it abundantly clear that Councilman Frazier's behavior cannot continue to be tolerated. By continually releasing privileged information, he makes it extremely difficult for the residents and the council to trust him. It is time for him to settle down and begin making meaningful and responsible contributions to the city."

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Councilman Carl Ebaugh, who introduced the resolution for censure, said Frazier is "totally out of hand."

"He's constantly releasing things that happen in a closed meeting and using the city logo for his personal use," Ebaugh said. "This is a start. I think the people are ready to remove him."

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