Frederick County Council considers public trials for misconduct allegations

Jun. 2—The Frederick County Council might add to its Rules of Procedure a process for handling misconduct allegations against council members, including public trials.

After former Frederick Alderman Roger Wilson was accused in 2020 of sexual misconduct, people asked the County Council about how it would respond to a similar situation, said Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer, D, who sponsored the rule change.

If a procedure is not outlined in the Rules of Procedure, the council defers to Robert's Rules of Order, Keegan-Ayer said during a council meeting Tuesday.

Robert's Rules of Order are a guide that local governments, professional associations and fraternal organizations use for parliamentary procedure.

The public, though, might not be well versed in Robert's Rules of Order, Keegan-Ayer said — the measure clarifies that a trial is a possibility.

"I'm just trying to be a little clearer, especially for the public," Keegan-Ayer said in a phone interview before the council's meeting Tuesday.

Under Keegan-Ayer's proposal, the council may hold a public trial for a member accused of misconduct. At least four of seven council members would need to vote to try a council member for their alleged misconduct.

If a council member were found guilty of misconduct, the council could vote to censure the member, remove them from their appointments to any boards and commissions, or impose "other discipline," according to the proposed rule. The penalty would only be imposed with a majority vote.

The council would not, however, have the power to vote to remove a council member from office, the proposed rule states.

Misconduct could include, for example, chronic or habitual lateness; theft; or the use, sale or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol on the job, on county property or in county vehicles, according to Frederick County Personnel Rules.

Other council members, however, raised concerns about parts of Keegan-Ayer's proposal.

Councilman Jerry Donald, D, said that many of the examples of misconduct listed in the Frederick County Personnel Rules, which cover regular employees appointed to a budgeted position, are not relevant to council members.

Councilman Phil Dacey, R, said the amendment did not make clear whether the council would hold a trial for a member accused of breaking the law.

Keegan-Ayer said she proposed the amendment to spark discussion among council members and that discussion would be tabled for two weeks.

The proposal to add a process for handling complaints of misconduct was one of 12 proposed changes to the council's Rules of Procedure that Keegan-Ayer presented Tuesday.

The council makes changes to its Rules of Procedure annually as the county continues to adjust in its eighth year of charter government, Keegan-Ayer said. The council last amended its Rules of Procedure in April 2021.

Another proposed amendment would grant the council president the authority to call an emergency meeting and allow council members to participate in council meetings virtually — if council leadership determines they have a legitimate reason for doing so.

The council never had to call an emergency meeting before the pandemic and did not have a need for virtual participation, Keegan-Ayer said.

Keegan-Ayer also presented a change that would give council members less time to request amendments for a bill. The current rule allows council members until the third business day prior to the meeting where their bill amendment is scheduled to be introduced.

Multiple council members disagreed with the proposed change.

" ... [The new deadline] is just completely unrealistic for a part-time council member," said Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, D.

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure during its meeting on June 14.