Princess Anne Commissioners want public opinion on policy that would allow them to use a town car

PRINCESS ANNE — By majority consensus the Princess Anne Commissioners will take a vote on approving a policy to allow them to have available for their use a town vehicle.

As a policy it requires one reading, and that is expected to be at the 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8 town meeting with public comment accepted at that time.

“It’s the public’s ultimate decision on what they want us to do,” said Commissioner President Lionel Frederick. “So if there’s any concern that the public has, our job to work for them and show them we work for them.” “[B]ring your constituents out so that everyone’s input can be voiced.”

The “modest policy” was based on what the state and other municipalities do, said attorney Paul Wilber, who is also the acting town manager. A vehicle would be available to all commissioners “to be used to conduct the business of the town.”

Expenses for the vehicle would be paid by the town, the driver — whether a commissioner or an employee — must have a valid license, obey all laws and report any accidents.

In his haste not to be late for the Aug. 17 work session held at Town Hall, Princess Anne Commissioner President Lionel Frederick parked on the wrong side of Church Street. He is an advocate for a policy that will allow the commissioners to have a vehicle available for their use when on town business, rather than being reimbursed for mileage expense.

Vice President Garland Hayward said except for when Princess Anne is the host, the Lower Eastern Shore Mayor’s Association (LESMA) meets at different municipalities each month. There may also be times when a commissioner must drive to Salisbury or elsewhere to conduct business on behalf of the town.

If the policy is abused, Mr. Wilber said “if you had a town manager” that person could “keep an eye on the log book.” Otherwise, “to a degree, I think the commissioners need to self-police.” And if the elected officials believe it isn’t working, “you can modify or stop the policy.”

Mr. Hayward felt something stronger than self-policing was necessary, and on that Mr. Frederick said the commissioners could invoke the code of conduct and reprimand a commissioner. And if it’s criminal, “that why we have law enforcement” which would be settled by the courts, the president said.

By consensus at the Aug. 17 work session it will be written in the policy that it can be amended or ended by a majority vote of the commissioners.

Commissioner Joey Gardner voiced his opposition to a car use policy, stating if there is a meeting or circumstance requiring travel, “We would save a lot of money for the town by simply reimbursing mileage.” That would be less costly, he said, than to insure and maintain a car for attending a monthly LESMA meeting and the annual Maryland Municipal League meeting.

“I can’t think of other things that are outside of town, and require driving,” he said, saying the town could eliminate one vehicle and “use that money for better purposes.”

Mr. Frederick disagreed, saying “There is a need for this, whether or not you need it for town business is an individual’s problem. The more you broaden your horizon and work for the town of Princess Anne you come to a point where these things are necessary, a resource to do the actual job.”

One additional concern by Mr. Gardner was the potential for a violation of the Opens Meeting Act if three or more commissioners travel together and discuss town business. Mr. Wilber said it shouldn’t happen but, “It’s difficult to police.”

A line in the draft policy that there be a limit on miles each week will not be included when the policy goes forward for a vote. As Commissioner Marshall Corbin said, from week to week there’s no way to know if miles traveled will be zero or 30.

If adopted, an administrative detail to be worked out would be where to get the key to a vehicle after hours. Commissioner Orlondo Taylor suggested it could be left at the police station.

Consideration of a car use policy comes at the heels of the reinstatement of the cell phone stipend for commissioners, which Mr. Gardner also opposed. It was expressly deleted from the fiscal year 2021 budget as a cost-saving measure but on Aug. 3 was restored retroactively to July 1 by a majority vote.

Written comments on the car use policy may be sent to the commissioners at Town Hall, 30489 Broad Street, Princess Anne, Md., 21853.