Smithsburg Town Council meeting ends with dispute

February 07, 2001|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Smithsburg Town Council meeting ends with dispute

SMITHSBURG - Councilman Mike Rohrer Tuesday accused town officials of "a very direct, deliberate and personal attack on me" for publicly playing a tape of his phone complaint about snow removal.

The tape of his message was played at last month's council work session, when Rohrer was absent.

"I think I was singled out because I was a council member," he said as Tuesday's Town Council meeting concluded.

Rohrer didn't name anyone and declined to comment further after the meeting. He said the spouse of someone at the meeting told him the tape had been played.

In an interview after the meeting was adjourned, Mayor Tommy Bowers defended the playing of Rohrer's message, which he said was derogatory toward town employees.

"Councilman Rohrer just got a taste of his own medicine and he doesn't like the taste of it," Bowers said.

Rohrer left a message on the Town Hall answering machine on the night of Jan. 21, after snow had fallen, saying the town's removal effort "stinks." He complained that the town square wasn't properly plowed and that he couldn't back his truck onto his property from an alley.


He made a reference to the town spending $3,200 on bicycles and gear for police officers, a purchase he opposed. "Maybe they need to get the police department out there riding the bicycles, spreading a little salt by hand," he said on the answering machine.

A tape of the message - which Rohrer called "direct," but Bowers described as "sarcastic" and "demeaning" - was played at the Jan. 23 work session.

Rohrer said he missed the meeting because he had to work.

Public Works Director Bill Loughridge said Wednesday that Rohrer's assertions about the town's policy were wrong.

Loughridge said he was offended by Rohrer's comments and needed to defend his department, which is why he played the tape at the work session and took in pictures of plowed streets and alleys.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Rohrer said he left the phone message, keeping his anger in check, because he objects to some recent spending decisions.

He asked why his complaint was aired publicly when other people who leave phone messages at Town Hall don't get the same treatment. In response to a question from Rohrer, Clerk/Treasurer Betsy Martin said she didn't remember a complaint being played aloud at a council meeting before.

Rohrer tried to poll the rest of the council for their thoughts, but Councilman Jake Johnson said it was inappropriate to discuss the matter at that time.

Johnson suggested the council have a private meeting to "clear this up," but his motion died when no one seconded it.

State law requires government bodies to conduct business in public, although exceptions are allowed for such topics as litigation, criminal investigations and certain matters concerning municipal employees or officials.

During an interview afterward, Councilwoman Elizabeth "Peachy" Mann said any important public comment, including council members', should be aired for the council to hear. "I think it's a good idea," she said. "At least you know that it's being taken care of."

"I had mixed feelings about the tape being played at the work session," Bowers said. "But I was afraid if something wasn't done, I would lose at least one valuable employee, so I chose the lesser of two evils."

He said he felt Rohrer's message was "very sarcastic and very demeaning to several employees of the town. ... They were very offended."

He said he wished Rohrer had been at the work session, "everybody holler at each other and it be over."

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