(Sept. 18, 2020) Resort resident Joseph Potter has written a letter to Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton Howard III, asking him to investigate Ocean City Council President Lloyd Martin in relation to the council’s closed-session pier franchise negotiations.
Potter’s letter is based on a June Maryland Open Meetings Act Compliance Board opinion, which found the council had violated the act by conducting its pier franchise negotiations, with franchisee Charles “Buddy” Jenkins, sans public knowledge or input.
One of the biggest takeaways for city officials and legal counsel had been that franchises, although contractual in nature, are not contracts, and therefore do not fall within the open meetings act’s exemptions.
Potter also addresses the council’s lackluster meeting minutes and closing statements, the latter of which Martin is charged with organizing.
Martin had been unaware of the letter until Ocean City Today contacted the city’s legal counsel for comment on Monday.
“I can’t figure out why he [Potter] would do that,” Martin said about the letter.
Martin said he and the council had not intentionally violated the act because they had been ignorant to the nuances of franchises versus contracts.
“I didn’t do anything willingly or knowingly wrong,” he said. “We went along with what our legal counsel said was OK.”
Martin said he and the council had no intention to fight the compliance board’s opinion.
“We are moving forward with what the compliance board said … [and] changing our protocol to fit compliance,” he said.
Whether Potter’s letter will amount to anything is unclear, as the compliance board’s opinion is just that — an opinion.
Potter addresses the lack of legal recourse in his letter.
“The act does not generally allow any charges against a person under the State of Maryland code,” he said. But, “[It] does not prevent charging under local legal requirements like the Ocean City Charter.”
Potter said while he was not aware of such action ever being taken, “I believe that my seminal request for your investigation is based on sound legal theory.”
Furthermore, whether Potter filed his letter to the right person is questionable, as well.
“This is not a matter within the scope of the role of Office of the State Prosecutor,” city legal counsel Heather Stansbury told Ocean City Today.