Infighting On Town Council Threatens Depot Restaurant

October 21, 1990|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

SYKESVILLE - A hastily called special meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday has renewed infighting among council members and posed a new threat to the restaurant planned for the town's historic train depot.

Some elected officials were notified Tuesday to attend the meeting, during which the council discussed terms of a state loan the town will administer for renovation of the 106-year-old depot.

But Councilman Kenneth W. Clark and Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. said angrily that they were never notified about the meeting. Councilman Wiley Purkey said he learned about the session only when he "bumped into" Council President Charles B. Mullins on the street Tuesday afternoon.

"I find it absolutely ridiculous that someone could have a meeting and not notify everyone," Clark said.

The handling of the meeting further underscored the fracture between three council members -- Mullins, Charles H. "Tim" Ferguson and Maxine C.

Wooleyhand -- and the rest of the council.

It also prompted worry that yet another hurdle may face Charles Cullum and Jack Saum, who plan to open a Victorian-style restaurant called Baldwin's.

The state granted the town a $180,000 loan to administer for Cullum's and Saum's use in opening the restaurant.

Cullum and Saum agreed last summer that their corporation would be responsible for the loan in case of default. At the meeting, however, the council considered asking the two businessmen for a personal guaranty, Helt and Purkey said.

No action was taken at the meeting, Purkey said.

Saum declined to comment Thursday on whether he and Cullum would agree to a personal guaranty, saying it was the first he had heard about a possible shift in the town's position on terms for the state loan.

The incident also raised the question of the council's compliance with Maryland's open-meetings law.

State law regulating meetings of governmental bodies allows councils to hold sessions closed to the public and the media under certain circumstances.

The law lists 14 situations under which a council can close a session, including discussion of personnel and legal matters.

A council must conduct a formal vote to close a meeting, and a majority is required, the law says.

Yet there was confusion about whether Tuesday's meeting was properly closed.

Ferguson and Wooleyhand said it was appropriate to close the meeting because the council was discussing a legal matter -- terms of the state loan -- with Town Attorney Dennis Hoover.

Ferguson and Wooleyhand cited the discussion and declined to talk about the proceedings.

"We did everything perfectly legally," Ferguson said.

But when asked whether the required vote to close the meeting was taken, Ferguson said, "I can't remember."

Purkey and Helt said no vote was taken, and Purkey said he was under the impression the meeting was open.

The incident left Clark, Helt and Purkey angered by the way arrangement of the meeting was handled.

Hoover said he suggested a meeting of council members to discuss aspects of the loan agreement, which was scheduled to be finalized Wednesday but was postponed. It remained unclear who was responsible for notifying the council members.

Clark, who was in Cincinnati on business until Wednesday, said there were no messages about the meeting on answering machines at his home or office.

"I think the question here is the moral situation," he said. "There's no way they couldn't have notified me."

Helt called the meeting "highly improper."

"If it were me, I'd make damn sure everyone on that council gets notice or we wouldn't have a meeting," he said.

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