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Trouble finding a quorum in Woodsboro

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(7/19) Elected officials in Woodsboro are disagreeing this week over whether or not they officially met on July 10.

The burgess and two commissioners convened at their regular meeting place in the town office that evening, but they did not vote on any issues.

In fact, those who attended are not unanimous in whether or not they even had a quorum. The Woodsboro charter does not make clear how many of the town’s elected officials make up a quorum, and the burgess and commissioners do not agree on a number.

The town of 900 has four commissioners and a burgess who normally meet on the second Tuesday of each month to discuss and vote on town business. The burgess is a voting member of the commission.

Burgess Donald L. Trimmer said three elected officials — including the burgess — count as a quorum. Only he and commissioners William P. Rittelmeyer and Joel Rensberger attended the July 10 meeting, but it was official, he said.

Other officials said the July meeting could not have been official.

Commissioner David Eaves, elected to the board in May, said Wednesday that four of the five elected officials makes a quorum, meaning only one can be absent from a meeting for it to be official. ‘‘To me, it would be half plus one," Eaves said.

Rittlemeyer, who was appointed to the board in January after the departure of Commissioner Dennis Kline, said he also thinks the July 10 meeting did not have a quorum. ‘‘Three of us sat around and just kind of bs’d for awhile," he said.

Commissioner Scott Brakebill, elected to his first term in May 2005, also said that the burgess and at least three commissioners were needed for a vote. ‘‘My understanding is that it was three [commissioners]." Brakebill said. ‘‘I may stand corrected on that."

Trimmer remained adamant Wednesday about the town’s definition of quorum, saying that four elected officials makes a ‘‘majority," not a quorum. When asked to distinguish between the two, Trimmer declined and told a reporter to use a dictionary.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines ‘‘majority" as ‘‘the greater number; more than half of a total." It defines ‘‘quorum" as ‘‘the minimum number of members required to be present before an assembly can transact business." It does not say that a majority of a body needs to be present to have a quorum.

Jim Peck, director of research at the Maryland Municipal League, sided with Trimmer after reading the town’s charter. Peck cited language describing the terms of office for elected officials in his assessment: ‘‘All legislative powers of the town are vested in the Burgess and four commissioners."

Woodsboro commissioners meet without posting an agenda in advance and vote on town matters at monthly workshop sessions. State law allows for both practices, Peck said.

‘‘The law doesn’t recognize any difference between a regular meeting of council and a workshop," Peck said. ‘‘[Municipalities] tend to use work sessions to do preliminary discussions leading up to action that would occur at a regular meeting."

Officials said the workshop sessions, scheduled on the fourth Monday of each month and open to the public, count as town meetings.

‘‘That’s where a lot of the work gets done," Brakebill said Wednesday.

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