Hurlock Council holds work session; no public comments allowed

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz Hurlock officials held a work session on Aug. 8 that included Mayor Joyce Spratt, center, council members, from left: Russell Murphy, Jerry Rhue, Bonnie Franz, Earl Murphy, and the Rev. Charles Cephas; attorney Robert Merriken, and Town Administrator John Avery.

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Hurlock officials held a work session on Aug. 8 that included Mayor Joyce Spratt, center, council members, from left: Russell Murphy, Jerry Rhue, Bonnie Franz, Earl Murphy, and the Rev. Charles Cephas; attorney Robert Merriken, and Town Administrator John Avery.

HURLOCK — Immediately following the Aug. 8 Hurlock Town Council meeting, council members, Mayor Joyce Spratt, Robert Merriken, town attorney, John Avery, town administrator, and Police Chief Les Hutton participated in a work session. Such sessions are open to the public and the audience was invited to stay and hear the discussions. The Mayor noted there would be no public comment. Asked why by a resident, Mayor Spratt said the decision to have or not have public comment after a work session will be made as each individual session is held.

According to the Maryland Municipal League (MML), work sessions are informal meetings where the council cannot take official action or final votes. Work sessions must be open to the public according to the Open Meetings Act, where “the open-ended, informal discussion format allows council members to discuss agenda subjects in a give-and-take fashion without the formality of hearings, formal motions, and written reports. The number of council members and staff participating in these discussions, combined with the tentative nature of many of the subjects, lead most councils to prohibit or discourage citizen participation in the discussion during work sessions.

“Citizens and the media are welcome as observers but usually may not participate unless called upon as resource persons. Municipalities may find it desirable to schedule a regular date and time for work sessions throughout the year. This allows council and staff to plan workloads and schedule other events. It also provides reasonable notice of the meetings to the public which is required by law.”

Mr. Avery said one purpose of the work session was to discuss progress on the charter’s codification which began in February 2012 but the effort ceased at some point and Mr. Avery assumed responsibility for trying to finish it. He wants council input in updating the document.

Administrator Avery explained the session was not held to go into depth but to begin the codification process. He asked council members to look at items in the charter with an eye towards revision. The second document slated for revision is the employee manual which has been discussed for over a year. Mr. Avery asked council members to review the manual for areas that need to be updated and recommend changes to adopt in a new personnel manual.

Mayor Spratt said, “We need a new public address system so at least the people in the back can hear.” Ms. Spratt also expressed concern that “We talk here and when we walk out the door we forget.” She named several potential and existing projects that are in the works for the town like the Fall Festival, Christmas events, park upgrades, and beautification projects. The Mayor asked council members to be more involved in town projects. “There are lots of needs.” Noting how much time and effort are involved in projects, Ms. Spratt said the office staff cannot handle everything. “We can do more if more people are involved. So many times people are not asked.”

The Mayor wants the council to look at the details of the events in an effort to improve them. She asked the council to get their brains working about what more can be done for adults as well as youngsters at the Fall Festival, slated for the second Saturday in October.

Mr. Avery said the grant application for the demolition of four, “possibly five,” houses is currently undergoing the requisite State environmental review. “The next step is public notice of the project. Things are going forward.” Ms. Spratt said the town has an advantage because it already owns the properties. She said the town will apply for grants to equip the town’s parks as well.

With the police department move to its new building, the conversion of the old police station into a town and train museum can begin. The Mayor anticipates no major changes to the building other than removing a wall that was installed as a safety barrier. She suggested the offices can remain and used for displays. Councilman Earl Murphy suggested keeping the “lock up” as a tourist attraction.

“We’ve got quite a few things (historic items) already,” said Ms. Spratt. “That’s going to be a big project and I think the whole council should work on it. Chief Hutton said the old cell could possibly be sold on eBay. Town officials will move forward immediately on some of the items discussed particularly a new public address system.

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